Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Changing Science Education One Teacher at a Time

by Bonnie Eissner

During her years as a science teacher, Emily Kang, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education, participated in many professional development opportunities that, she says, had little impact on helping her transform her teaching practice. Only a few immersion programs led to lasting change. So she decided that, as a professor, she would create and implement the latter.


Teachers collected insects to evaluate pond health at Caumsett State Historic Park Preserve.

Supported by two New York State Race to the Top grants, Dr. Kang is carrying out her vision with elementary school teachers in Freeport and Wyandanch, New York— two high-needs school districts. 

In Freeport, Dr. Kang and Mary Jean McCarthy, a clinical assistant professor at the Ammon School, have been working with second-grade teachers, modeling lessons that involve the state’s pending new science standards and coaching the teachers as they implement them. They also conduct bi-weekly workshops and, over the summer, led the teachers on some immersive field trips. Another portion of the grant is being used to fund supplementary special education advanced certification for six K-12 classroom teachers.

In Wyandanch—a smaller district—Dr. Kang has been coaching elementary school teachers in two schools by demonstrating teaching methods, observing teachers and conducting workshops.
Being in the classroom with teachers and their students allows Dr. Kang to see the teachers’ strengths and challenges and tailor her coaching accordingly—an approach to professional development that she describes as artisanal. “We can’t just ‘Walmartize’ education,” she says.

Dr. Kang admires the new science standards for encouraging students to engage in science practices and evidence-based reasoning. She observes, though, that standards alone won’t change education. “It’s the teaching that counts.”