Bridget Miller receives Garnet Apple Award
Excitement in science lessons? Not impossible, says educator
Education prof shows future teachers how to incorporate science into everyday lessons
Posted on: November 1, 2019; Updated on: November 1, 2019
By Megan Sexton, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-1421
"I also believe that we should view students, all students, as people, and be receptive to their ideas and perspective, learn from them, and be compassionate and understanding that they have lives outside of our classroom and pasts that shape their views." — Bridget Miller, 2019 Garnet Apple Award winner
When Bridget Miller was in graduate school working on her master’s in special education, a mentor opened her eyes to science education. Now she’s doing the same with students in her College of Education classrooms.
“My mentor was so excited and passionate about what he did and that made me so excited and passionate about it, too. He pulled me over to the science and engineering side. So, it just trickles — I try to do that with my students as well,” Miller says. “I’m excited about what I’m doing, and I want them to be excited to get their kids excited.”
The first assignment for students in Miller’s science methods for early childhood class is a reflection about their formal and informal experiences with science. “A lot come in with anxiety, saying, ‘I’m not good at science. I’m not good at math. It’s not my thing,’” she says. “I try to make sure that by the end of the class they’re not only feeling more comfortable with it, they’re excited about it.”
Some of that comes from Miller’s enthusiasm for the topic; some is her ability to make topics like science less intimidating.
“When I went through school, science was memorization of facts and terms. I try to instill that’s not necessarily what science is, that’s it can be fun, that it’s all around us,” she says. “Little kids are inquisitive, and they ask a million questions. How do we help them explore?”
Part of that is making a commitment to the subject in the early years — third grade and younger — when standardized testing and curriculum focus more on math and reading skills.
“My students have found in their placements and when they go into internships that science and social studies get pushed to the end of the day, if they can get to it,” Miller says. “But my students have come up with really good ways to integrate it. If kids find something on the playground, they’re excited. We can bring in writing about it, reading about it, collecting data.
“We’re doing math, we’re making sense of data and tying it all together. And now that they’re student teaching they’re coming back to me and saying, ‘I did these really great science lessons and it wasn’t during science time, but it fit with our unit.’”
That relationship with students is key to Miller’s success in the classroom. All of them have her cell phone number, and she says her door is always open. Some of her former students are now following her path to graduate school, while others message her and say, “Remember that lesson we did about bird beaks? Can I borrow your materials? Can you come in and talk to my classes?” And she does, visiting her former students’ classes to offer advice, watch them teach and celebrate their accomplishments.
“Teaching should involve knowing and supporting the student as a whole,” she says. “For example, if my students struggle on an assignment, or don’t reach mastery, for me it’s not about just deducting points because they didn’t ‘get it’ or ‘do it right,’ but it’s about giving in-depth feedback in person and online and letting a student to reflect and revise in order to grow and reach mastery.
“My end goal is that they walk out with strong lessons and a strong understanding, whether it’s in my class, or another class they are taking, I’m always willing to talk through ideas and their thinking and approaches to something.
“I also believe that we should view students, all students, as people, and be receptive to their ideas and perspective, learn from them, and be compassionate and understanding that they have lives outside of our classroom and pasts that shape their views. Teaching is reciprocal, and I continue to learn from my students every year. My students are why I do what I do.”