Professional Development in North and South Carolina, vol. 2

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 first installment in this blog series here.

Donna Godley is a fifth grade science teacher at Tryon Elementary School in North Carolina and her school's site coordinator, responsible for supporting her fellow teachers and communicating with the other key players in the program. In March and August 2021, she attended professional development on the Smithsonian Science for the Classroom module How Can We Provide Freshwater to Those in Need? in preparation for implementing it with her students.

We spoke with Donna to learn more about her experiences with the program.


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

Donna: Our Superintendent signed our school up and was looking for teachers to be a part of the program. I teach 5th grade science and we’re departmentalized. So after I volunteered, I also became a coordinator for my school. I worked with some of the Smithsonian Science units before and traveled to D.C. with other teachers for Smithsonian-related things several years ago. The quality of the Smithsonian programs are usually pretty good, so I felt like the effort I would be putting into it would be worth it for my students.

What was your experience with the Smithsonian Science for the Classroom module you covered during the professional development? What was your experience going through the curriculum during the professional development?

My unit was an [Engineering] design unit, and it’s about moving water from one area to another. The people that we’ve worked with anytime we’ve done the training have been great. It’s been virtual, of course, because of COVID but the instructors have always been really good. The written materials, especially the teacher manual, is always so self explanatory because it covers everything in great detail. You can watch the videos if you have questions on anything. The teacher materials and the resources the Smithsonian Science Education Center provides are exceptional. Actually sitting through the material makes me more familiar with it, and I could teach the lessons without professional development because the materials are so high quality.

A screenshot from a Zoom meeting in which Donna Godley works with a padlet displaying ten pictures of landforms.

In this screenshot from PD, Donna describes her group's rationale for sorting images of landforms in a jamboard.

What was it like for you to work with other teachers and coordinators during the training?

It was great to receive feedback from others. I worked with the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers from my school to help them figure out how they were going to teach the lessons. At the end of each year we hold a debrief to discuss highlights and how we’re going to work through certain challenges and implement them for the following school year.

What has this experience been like for your students?

The kids have loved it. With all of the hands-on activities, they say “oh, we’re really scientists!” It was so exciting for them to see crates of new materials they were going to work with. They really enjoy doing the design units because they had the opportunity to be creative and use the materials how they liked. Usually when I’m doing things in my classroom, there’s not a wealth of material to use and we’re limited to what I’ve purchased. Everyone was very engaged because they were so enthralled with everything they were getting to use.

They really enjoy being creative and it has really helped them with teamwork. In 5th grade, getting along and working together is a challenge. They’re motivated to work together during this unit, which is a great thing to have toward the end of the school year.

What is a memorable takeaway for you from professional development training?

Actually doing the materials together was really impactful to me. We’re learning how to move water from one place to another and design water filtration systems. There were some funny moments along the way that were memorable too—at one point my filter completely collapsed! When I started doing this unit with the kids, I could make suggestions along the way so that they didn’t completely lose everything.

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

I’ve always considered myself a constructionist, where I don’t tell students things but let them discover it for themselves. This professional development reemphasized that method of teaching and how important it is. Once the students learn it for themselves, they don’t forget it. If they’re just told what to do, it goes in one ear and out the other. If they discover it for themselves, they can apply it to other situations.