PlantingScience Professional Development Workshop Strengthens Classroom + Early Career Scientist Connections

In July 2017, PlantingScience hosted a professional development workshop at the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) in Colorado Springs, CO as part of the PlantingScience: Digging Deeper Together grant funded by NSF and lead by efforts from BSCS, BSA, and ASPB. The workshop included 24 high school teachers from around the country with 12 plant scientists at early stages of their careers: graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and professors from R1 and PUI schools. The goal of this workshop was to bring together teachers and scientist mentors participating in online Planting Science platform. As an early career scientist at a PUI, I attended this workshop to learn more about the Planting Science program.

The PlantingScience online platform is a free resource for student-centered plant investigations that integrates scientific practices and big ideas in biology that meet the guidelines in the Next Generation Science Standards. Planting Science is a learning community, initiated in 2005, where volunteer scientists provide online mentorship to high school and middle school student teams as they design and think through their own plant science inquiry projects.

On top of PlantingScience, the Digging Deeper grant is designed to develop, implement, and evaluate a collaborative professional development (PD) model for high science teachers and scientists participating in the PlantingScience program. At the same time, the Digging Deeper grant researches the effect of the PD model on science teaching and student outcomes, focused on photosynthesis. The summer workshops at BSCS facilitate the Planting Science PD model, allowing science teachers and career scientists to work closely over extended periods to develop a shared expertise that catalyzes the ultimate goal: engaged students who can proficiently integrate science content with practices of science.

At the workshop, plant scientists and teachers worked together on a number of projects ultimately designed to achieve learning outcomes in high school science classrooms – but the meeting was much more than that. Teachers honed their experimental skills with help from the scientists. Scientists learned about teaching resources and pedagogical approaches – these resources were designed for the classroom teachers, but many scientists were excited to report that the teaching tools will be translated into their own labs and classrooms. One graduate student said she had picked up some teaching skills “through osmosis” during her PhD training – but the PD workshop opened her eyes to diverse teaching publications and pedagogical resources that she can use while TAing, in the lab, and during lectures.

Across the board, scientists from ASPB and BSA at the workshop deeply appreciated the opportunity to communicate with teachers. Online mentoring of high school students depends on open communication between the scientist mentors and the classroom teachers. Scientists moreover were impressed with the teachers’ knowledge and scientific prowess. For the teachers, increasing their own education and boosting student comprehension of difficult concepts like photosynthesis and cellular respiration proved to be an outstanding opportunity. The teachers view the chance for high school students to interact with “real life scientists” – outside of their classrooms – and increase scientific literacy as a huge benefit to participating in Planting Science.

All told, the community-building aspect of this workshop was truly influential for both scientists and teachers. Open communication and the experience of different perspectives has built new collaborations and connections between scientists and teachers, something the PlantingScience administrators hope will persist both online and off.

For ASPB members interested in working with PlantingScience, applications are still being accepted for the 2017-2018 Master Plant Science Team. Learn more and apply by August 7, 2017.

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