By Danielle Kraus Tarka
This article is part of our new series of features on the work of our wonderful SENCER community members. NCSCE staff have the pleasure of corresponding with so many of you on a regular basis and are aware your efforts, but we realize that most members of our community may only have access to information about these great initiatives at our national or regional events. This series will allow us to highlight the ingenuity and dynamic work of NCSCE participants and partners with all of our readers. Each month, we’ll talk with educators, administrators, students, and/or staff to learn how they have implemented the SENCER approach, and understand the impact on their campuses and communities.
The SENCER community includes members who have been working steadily over the past decade to create models of implementation outside of the post-secondary environment, including projects in informal education, collaborations with school districts, and working with pre-service teachers to prepare them to apply SENCER in their future classrooms.
Carolina Day School, a pre-K-12 independent day school in Asheville, North Carolina, is home to an innovative team of educators who are pioneering implementations of the SENCER approach to the K-12 curriculum. Since Joanne Bartsch first attended a SENCER Summer Institute a few years ago, many of her colleagues have become involved with the community and have adapted courses in disciplines including science, history, math, English, and fine arts. At SSI 2017, Carolina Day team members presented posters on implementing SENCER at a high school in general, and on a specific implementation of a unit in ninth grade Human Biology and Global Studies that introduces biological, socioeconomic, and cultural factors of infectious diseases. Dora Nelson and Susan White, who are responsible for a collaboration between biology and English described below, participated in the recent NCSCE Science and Engineering for Social Good meeting.
Joanne Bartsch and Dora Nelson kindly agreed to share with us their reflections on the evolution of their careers, how they have built their team, and the ways they have successfully implemented SENCER in a K-12 setting.
A brief background on the Carolina Day School
Both: Carolina Day School is a PK-12 coeducational independent day school located in Asheville, North Carolina. Total enrollment is around 700; there are about 180 students in the Upper School. We serve a broad regional area with students coming from 5 counties in Western North Carolina. Our mission is to …inspire students to become innovative thinkers who communicate with intelligence and clarity, create with vision and purpose, and act with courage and compassion to confidently make a meaningful difference in the world.
Our approach to education in the Upper School relies on strong relationships between faculty and students that creates a community where students feel safe and are willing to take risks with their learning and to be challenged by our high expectations. We offer a college-prep curriculum that includes traditional course (AP and AP-style) as well as non-traditional high school courses that are non-AP. We aim to prepare our students for their life beyond high school, both in the immediate (post-secondary or gap year) as well as longer term (life beyond the classroom). Our classrooms are a mixture of teaching styles – lecture, group work, independent research, discussion, seminar.
What brought you each to Carolina Day School?
Dora Nelson: Carolina Day School resulted from a merger between two schools, including St. Genevieve – Gibbons Hall (where I taught at the time). I LOVE teaching science (and math), and Carolina Day is a perfect fit for me. I taught in the Middle School for some time and moved to the Upper School when an opportunity presented itself. My colleagues are the best in the world – we all work together, no matter our area of interest or expertise, to provide an exceptional learning experience for our students
Joanne Bartsch: I came to CDS from my teaching certification program at UNC-Asheville; it was my first and so far, my only job. I have stayed here for 37 years because of the learning community that has developed. I am continuously supported as a professional to develop curricula that is exciting and engaging for my students as well as for me. My students are engaged and excited about learning. We have a faculty that is dedicated and supportive of one another.
How did you first learn about SENCER? What interested you about the community and approach?
Joanne: I first heard about SENCER through Dr. Natalie Kuldell, who was presenting at the 2014 Summer Institute at UNC-Asheville. I was interested in Natalie’s BioBuilder program and was excited to meet her; in the process of planning that meeting, I took a look at the SENCER website and was taken by the overlap between SENCER ideals and what I want and have tried to accomplish in my classroom.
I am pretty sure I was hooked within 24 hours of meeting this community. Actually, come to think of it, I was probably hooked when Kyle so warmly greeted me on that first day. The sessions I attended offered me the opportunity to do more than just learn some teaching tricks; I was challenged to understand the research – both in science and in pedagogy – and provided the opportunity to follow that research in developing my own plans rather than copying someone else’s. I think the fact that the community was primarily collegiate made a huge difference for me in terms of my engagement. I was so fortunate to be able to spend some time talking with David who fueled my enthusiasm for the SENCER approach. Finally, the absolute dedication of everyone I met for this approach to teaching was sincere and their support for one another was obvious.
Dora: I first learned about SENCER from Joanne after she attended a summer institute at UNC-Asheville. She was so excited about the philosophy – combining science and civic engagement – and when she described it to me my first thought was “this is a perfect way to teach science!” I have always felt this way, and SENCER was the first organization that truly addressed this idea for me. Science does not happen in isolation, nor should it be taught that way. I think that all students, and teachers, need to be exposed to the SENCER approach.
How did you develop your institutional team?
Joanne: I soloed that first year at UNCA. The school year following that, I happened to sit next to a new Social Studies teacher (Prudence Munkittrick), who mentioned that she was interested in teaching history through the lens of disease. That spoke directly to me. At the time, we were both teaching ninth grade, so we decided to attend the 2015 SSI at WPI the following summer, where we developed our Outbreak unit for our ninth grade course. Our enthusiasm for the SSI during the following school year enticed 7 of our colleagues – from a variety of disciplines – to join us in Chicago in 2016. And this past February, another teacher attended the Science and Engineering for Social Good conference in Atlanta, bringing our total SENCER experienced team to 10 faculty members out of a full-time teaching faculty of 20-25.
SENCER sells itself. To a person, whether their discipline is science, math, history, English or the arts, our teachers have returned identifying SSI as one of the best conference/professional development opportunities they have had.
The team members at Carolina Day have become leaders in our community in applying the SENCER approach to secondary education. How have you implemented the SENCER approach in your school and courses? What has been the impact on students?
Joanne: Much of what we have implemented has been in the area of units within already existing courses. Those units are currently in courses in the History, English, Math and Fine Arts Departments.
So far, the impact on our students can only be described anecdotally, as we have just been unable to get our acts together to do a proper SENCER/SALG on it. For ninth graders, the mere recognition that information has relevance in more than one discipline is eye opening. We think that the opportunities for collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and global awareness are excellent. We just need to get the final piece of the puzzle – assessment – under our belts.
Dora: Wow. This is the big question, right? We (those who have attended SENCER programs) have worked and collaborated together to produce SENCER-style units that combine science and Humanity. Next fall (2018) an English teacher (Susan White) and myself are offering a 1-semester course that combines Social Justice (her English course) and Bioethics (my science course). Susan attended the Feb NCSCE conference in Atlanta – Science and Engineering for the Social Good – and was really inspired. She did not know what to expect since she knows very little about engineering or science, but the amazing presentations about ways of integrating science and social justice formed the framework for us in designing our course (BEAM: Bio-social Ethics And Motivation – all sciencey things have to have an acronym, right?). I am really looking forward to working on this over the summer, students are very interested and I am certain that we will have good enrollment.
Is there any particular project you would like to highlight right now?
Joanne: The Outbreak! project is a collaboration between our ninth grade Global Studies and Human Biology classes has just finished its third year. Students study biologic aspects of disease in Human Biology and cultural and societal aspects in their Global Studies class with the focus in both classes on the epidemiological triangle. The final project requires students to use what they have learned in both classes to develop a response plan to a disease outbreak; while the disease outbreak is fictional, students are expected to use current conditions in their assigned city (Kabul, Mumbai, San Juan, for example) to hypothesize as to the cause of the epidemic and to break the triangle while being sensitive to cultural, socioeconomic, geographic, religious and demographic aspects of the affected population. The response plan must also accurately address the virulence factors of the pathogen. We have also added civic engagement aspects as students must develop an advocacy/activism/educational component of their response plan.
As a result of our work in Chicago [SSI 2016], and with an eye towards making our curriculum more relevant to students, we took a portion of a day in December 2016 to allow students to brainstorm topics they are interested in studying. A new science course, Astronomy and Space Science, came directly from those student requests. That class is completing its first year and the students in it have been involved in basic and original research using radiotelescopes through the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute near Asheville.
Another project we are excited about is a collaboration between our English Department, through a course in Social Justice that has been part of our curriculum for 2 years, and the Science Department, through a course in Bioethics that has also been taught for two years. The course (BEAM, noted above) for sophomores, juniors and seniors will be team taught by and English teacher and a Biology teacher and will use fiction and non-fiction, science readings, labs and projects to explore relationships between social justice and science.
Thank you Joanne and Dora for sharing your experiences with us!
Read previous features from our On Campus series:
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