Professional Development in North and South Carolina, vol. 1

The Smithsonian Science Education Center (SSEC) launched the Smithsonian Science for North and South Carolina Classrooms program in 2019 with a U.S. Department of Education early phase Education Innovation and Research (EIR) grant. Read the second installment in this blog series here.

Designed to provide ongoing curriculum and professional development support to teachers, educators receive inquiry-based science training on Smithsonian Science for the Classroom modules to build their own confidence and subsequently that of their students in science, math, and reading. Over 150 third, fourth, and fifth grade science teachers in 7 school districts across the two states have been impacted through this program to date.

Jennifer “JJ” Waddell is a science teacher at Polk Central Elementary School in North Carolina. While her school is now entering its third year of implementation, spring 2021 was the first opportunity for teachers to participate in professional development and receive curriculum. She received in-depth training on the Smithsonian Science for the Classroom module How Can We Provide Energy to People’s Homes?  during the spring 2021 professional development session.

We spoke with JJ to learn more about her experiences throughout the professional development.


SSEC: How did you feel after finding out you were going to be a part of the Smithsonian Science for North Carolina and South Carolina program? Did you have any expectations?

JJ: We were told by our curriculum instructional administrator that this was a really great program. We were excited and (still are) to do the professional development with the Smithsonian Science Education Center.

Energy is such a big part of our curriculum in North Carolina for 4th grade, so it was really cool that something that we teach was made into something broader with the information that we were given through the Smithsonian. The books and additional material really go in-depth into energy, batteries, electricity, and all things that are important for energy. {The professional development allows them to have a deep dive of the lesson}. These are things that we would love to teach our kids, but we may not always have the opportunity to, whether it’s a time crunch or the way that the material was laid out. It’s a good indicator of “hey, we can get this done.”

We had a few teachers who had been through a similar program a few years ago, so we had a little bit of background of what to expect. Our administrators and those who had taken courses in the past from the Smithsonian thought they were great. It was really impactful to see how this was going to be useful in the classroom.

What would you describe as the most impactful moment for you during your professional development?

There was a really big “lightbulb” moment on day two that we realized all of the different lessons were connected intricately and built upon each other. It started at a primary level by using basic knowledge that kids were already coming to the table with, and then increased the knowledge base. You couldn’t do lesson 3 without doing lesson 2 and I really enjoyed seeing that aspect.

Oftentimes we have curriculum that diverges here and there, so we constantly feel like we have to do extra research or extra activities to fill in gaps. The [Smithsonian Science for the Classroom] had no gaps and went further in-depth of the knowledge base that the kids should already know. Even if the student didn’t understand it the first time around, they were definitely going to on the second try—there’s a constant spiraling review of the whole process that uses the same science content language.

A screenshot from professional development in which JJ and others view the trainers screen showing Carolina Science Online

In this screenshot from PD, JJ and others view the Carolina Science Online interface.

In your experience, how has this curriculum differed from ones you might have taught in the past?

There’s a lot of project-based learning that we went through with Smithsonian Science for the Classroom. It seemed like almost all of the lessons we went over included an experiment with reasoning and observations instead of just presenting information in a textbook. It provided resources and let the students investigate different approaches to science, which was really cool.

How has this professional development challenged you to think differently about science education?

It’s easy for me, and I have to catch myself—not to just give them the answer. It’s really been eye opening for me to realize that the kids just need to use that deductive reasoning and that they’ve got to do this on their own. I’m quick to just give them hints to lead them in the right direction for time's sake, but I’m realizing that so much of the lesson builds off the previous that if I didn’t get it all in during a 45-minute session that there’s always tomorrow. They really enjoy it, and it really challenges me too.

What was it like for you to meet other teachers who were becoming acclimated to Smithsonian Science for the Classroom?

It was great to have that collaboration and to see things that worked in different situations. We often had discussions about remote learners versus in-class learners and some of the strategies they were using.