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Teachers Are Training To Bring A Scientist To Every School

Jeff Gage/Florida Museum

Two local science teachers are among a few dozen chosen for a new program to bring a scientist to every school in the state. 

“The program started as part of the University of Florida’s call for what are called ‘moonshot projects’,” said Brian Abramowitz, the K – 12 Education and Outreach Coordinator for the Scientist in Every Florida School program. He says those so-called moonshot projects are meant to turn big ideas into reality. “These are originally designed to be something that is so big (and) seemingly unattainable that is designed to change the whole state of Florida.”

The Scientist in Every Florida Classroom program is one of eight projects funded by the University of Florida. Since it began in early 2019 dozens of scientists and teachers, as well as their students have been involved.

“We’ll be developing lesson plans that revolve around the knowledge strand called ‘nature of science’,” said Karen Bruening, an Earth/Space Science Teacher at Pensacola High School. She says the scientists she’ll be working and training with are a perfect match.

“The Gurley Lab, who I’ll be working with, focuses on the interactions of the environment and human infrastructure. They have a wind tunnel, so there could be some really cool things that happen with that. With my environmental science background, that’s one of my passions. Figuring out how we’re going to balance our growing populations and our growing infrastructure with what Mother Nature wants to do with the world.”

The program is one of many professional development options available to teachers of the summer. It not only provides additional training and education for the teachers, but it gives educators access to working scientists and the availability to bring them in for physical or virtual classroom visits.

"Our administration and the district administration pushed this down to us as an opportunity and I had to take it” said Chris Norris, an 8th grade science teacher from Ransom Middle School in Cantonment. “I enrolled in this. I had to go through a thorough questionnaire. And out of 90 candidates they chose 40 and I was one of the lucky ones from Escambia County and the State of Florida to get accepted. It’s trying to get scientists, the experts in the field, in the classroom. I thought ‘what better chance to get our students the information than to hear it from an actual scientist in the field, doing that study.' I wanted to be a part of it.”

The original plan was for all the participating teachers from around the state to gather at either the University of Florida, University of Miami or Florida Atlantic University for the week long training. However the coronavirus pandemic put an end to those plans. Now it will be a virtual program. Brian Abramowitz says that with distance learning expected to continue into the next school year, making this a virtual program may help teachers innovate when designing their distance lesson plans. “It’s certainly tricky to use the words ‘silver lining’ in a situation like this, but there’s certainly some benefit to having teachers improve and strengthen their skills when it comes to educational technology and supporting students in that way.”

The Scientist in Every Florida School Program titled “The Nature of Science” runs from July 6-10. The 40 teachers selected represent 10 Florida counties. 

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.