Finding Partners for Elementary Science

Guest blog post by Wendi Laurence and Laura Cotter

One of my favorite things is discovering new people who can become partners in elementary science programming. While sometimes it is very hard to find those amazing partners; this is a short story about stumbling into one of those partnerships.

A few years ago when I was a STEAM Coordinator at a focus school, I was crawling around on the floor helping students with a Rube Goldberg project. Discovery
Gateway Children’s Museum had an educator onsite working with another age group. Luckily, Laura Cotter the Outreach Education Senior Manager, dropped in.
When she saw the machines the students were building, Laura asked to come in and learn more. It was one of those educators moments when you know you see someone who is all about students learning. She thought it was pretty cool to see the new
STEAM projects taking place and that I was crawling around working with students. I
figured she rocked because she came in and immediately talked to the students –
instead of standing to the side and talking with adults. The conversation after class was one of those where lots of ideas get written down, tons of energy flows and you connect about what might be in science education.

I discovered she was a chemistry major and had worked for years in the pharmacy field. When she decided to take a career swerve, she found the perfect fit at
Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum (DGCM). She was able to merge her love of science, teaching, and an amazing ability to create and manage programming. As we talked, I found out that the DGCM has an amazing professional development program for 5th-grade teachers to learn to teach chemistry. When they have completed the training, they are provided with a curated teaching kit to take back to their classrooms. As a small school just getting rolling with STEAM programming, this was a
great opportunity. From then on, our 5th grade team had great training, materials, and an outreach program that came to school and provided a facilitated chemistry lab experience every year.

A few more conversations into our partnership meant DGCM discovered that I had a
special interest in creating early childhood STEAM learning experiences. Our school became a pilot site, first for their new kindergarten physics curriculum and later piloting components of a professional development program for kindergarten physics.
We partnered to bring museum outreach to different grade levels and connected on field trips, curriculum, children’s literature, and even school gardening. This spring we presented together at the NSTA Elementary Extravaganza in St. Louis.

One of the highlights of our work was being accepted as a team to attend the U.S.
Department of Education’s Teach to Lead program in Nashville, Tennessee. Our team,
a kindergarten teacher, museum educator and STEAM Coordinator, focused on creating a professional learning community centered on supporting early childhood STEAM. A
group of educators is now meeting as a learning community and some members of the team presented together at the Utah Science Teachers Association this winter. The team was just accepted to present at the regional NSTA meeting in Salt Lake City this fall.

Museum/School partnerships can add depth to education programming. Some of our
tips for creating a successful partnership include:

  1. Value the learning that takes place in both venues and create a bridge between educators in both settings.
  2. Share resources: references, materials, lessons and share them in places like the NSTA Learning Center where others can access them.
  3. Learn together: attending conferences together and with other educators has helped increase our network of support for elementary science and museum/school partnerships.
  4. Get Involved Together: We both support several associations as we are all interested in growing science education opportunities for all students. Create a community: Invite others to join in the fun!

Wendi Laurence, Ed.D. is the founder of Create-osity and currently serves as NSTA
District XIV Director. She is a former STEAM Coordinator and NASA Curriculum
Specialist. Her career is dedicated to vision that: No dream be deferred and no potential unrealized. Follow her on Twitter @createosity


Laura Cotter is the Outreach Education Senior Manager at Discovery Gateway
Children’s Museum. She has a degree in chemistry from the University of Utah. She
serves on the Board of the Utah Science Teachers Association, on the NSTA committee
for Research in Science Education.

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2 Responses to Finding Partners for Elementary Science

  1. Debbie Ericksen says:

    I love the idea of receiving PD through a museum. How was the teacher training funded and was it optional or required for all teachers? There are several local museums in my area and I’d love to pursue this idea for me and my colleagues.

  2. Olivia Klaas says:

    Greetings!

    My name is Olivia Klaas and I am an Elementary Education Major at Wartburg College in Waverly, IA. I am being fully emerged into the importance of STEAM at the elementary level while getting my degree. STEAM has changed in huge quantities since I was in school and I know that it will continue to do so. Completing Professional Development at a children’s museum is unique in that it gives those teachers direct hands-on experience that they can use in their classroom. I can only imagine what opportunities were brought back to students following a PD at a children’s museum. I enjoyed reading how a Kindergarten teacher, STEAM Coordinator, and Museum educator learned to work together and form those connections with each other so that they can impact a variety of students. You stressed the importance of finding those connections, but I truly believe that having connections with a variety of people in the community can benefit the lives and education of the students in your classroom. Our job as teachers is to give our students those once in a lifetime experiences so that they can become well-rounded civilians in our communities.

    Olivia Klaas
    Wartburg College Class of 2021
    Elementary Education Major || Leadership Minor
    Math and Special Education Endorsements
    Kappa Delta Pi || Kappa Mu Epsilon
    Residents Assistant || Dance Team || NSTA

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