By Debra Shapiro
A future biology teacher from the Kansas State University-NSTA Student Chapter guides an elementary student in a Daphnia experiment to visualize the effect of caffeine on heart rate. Photo by Kimberly Staples
How has NSTA’s student chapter at Kansas State University (KSU-NSTA) in Manhattan, Kansas, dealt with the challenges to science education caused by the Covid-19 pandemic? “We pivot. If there’s an opportunity to teach science using a different platform, we embrace it,” responds Kimberly Staples, associate professor of science education and faculty advisor for the KSU-NSTA Student Chapter, which was founded in 2018.
Before 2018, Staples regularly took groups of up to 12 students to NSTA national conferences using funding from KSU’s College of Education. “If we’re preparing K–12 teachers to be knowledgeable, ethical, caring decision makers and have a national science teacher organization, our students need to be a part of that [because of the] community collaboration, sharing, and experiencing the perspectives of science teachers worldwide” occurring at NSTA conferences, she maintains.
“When our students presented [at NSTA conferences] years ago, they received an award from the NSTA president,” Staples recalls. NSTA officers support the student chapter; “they really care about us,” she asserts.
“When we moved to [having chapter members do] research; it was a natural progression,” Staples relates. “Students have to do a research project and connect it to an initiative of NSTA and use NSTA resources. Now students present their research posters at the national conferences.”
Jacob Nichols, KSU-NSTA president, adds, “[NSTA’s] core guiding principles are so fully ingrained in what Dr. Staples teaches. Little extra effort is needed by students. NSTA content and resources are perfect for what we’re learning about.”
“On the second floor [of our building], all of the [students’] research posters are displayed,” says Staples. “As a first-year teacher, you use your poster in your classroom as a model for students, [conveying] a research mindset for doing science. When you go into classrooms, you can tell [which ones are taught by] our graduates because they have their research poster [hanging] on the wall.”
Since 2018, “it’s amazing what’s happened and how [KSU-NSTA is] perceived. Faculty from other departments ask if they can come and share [at our events],” Staples reports. “Our faculty come to sessions because they want to hear what children are experiencing, and how [they] can…be a resource to [their] children.”
She continues, “We give back to the community. Before Covid-19, during our annual College of Education Open House, [more than] 2,000 alumni, preK–12 students, and teachers cycle[d] through our Science Education division, engaging in [science] activities. We had grandparents with strollers lining the hall! They came every year to the Science Education room. We’ve had young children who don’t want to leave! It’s our responsibility to serve the community: Science is amazing, and all should have access to excellence in science instruction. Just because we’re teaching online now, it is still amazing.”
“We spread the joy of science to everyone,” says Nichols. “Lots of recruiting is done at events and presentations. Guest speakers reach out to undergraduate and graduate education classes and invite them to [learn about the] chapter and get them involved in events…[We’re] presenting science education in a way that shows the positive impact it has on students and the community as a whole.”
As an example, Nichols points to the chapter’s celebration of National STEM Day in November 2019. “We brought in educators to present. We invited teachers from the surrounding communities and students from the entire university. We invited community members. We were able to show the influence science has on people’s lives; what happens in class and how it transfers to lives and careers. How science impacts future careers.”
“Today, our chapter is an ecosystem model. It takes more than methods and practicum. [We] involve stakeholders: alumni who contribute to our chapter by sharing; [school district] superintendents coming to events; members, teachers, and students interested in science or math. Their contributions have [helped create] the ecosystem model for preparing future teachers. Our students are not prepared in isolated courses on campus. It’s like a neural network of entities creating pathways to prepare our future science teachers,” Staples contends.
“In the Covid-19 era, we’re using remote learning. We have to pivot and prepare students differently. Initially, it was an arduous task,” Staples admits.
“We call upon our alumni [to hold] Zoom sessions with future science teachers. [They discuss topics like] how to engage students synchronously during Zoom sessions. Our first presenter on September 4 was Ryan Bird, our chapter’s first president,” she reports.
“It was a great opportunity to not only observe a teacher in the field, but [also] with Covid-19, an opportunity to see someone with experience teaching in a normal classroom and transitioning to online class—methods we’re learning now. How things look in practice…Practical advice. Making [science education] accessible online to students. Seeing how what we’re learning connects to the real world,” Nichols recalls.
Staples notes that another Zoom session is planned for October, with the theme “Assets of Learning.” “From September 4 to now, students preparing to student-teach are in a remote learning science practicum. They use evidence and NSTA resources to demonstrate growth through reflection. There are all types of practicum experiences, so each classroom is different...The focus will be on teaching science during a crisis, on Assets of Learning.”
“We’ll use [the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine publication Teaching K–12 Science and Engineering During a Crisis, which offers] specific strategies during a crisis on how to transition to online teaching. That [publication] is recent and relevant, [covering] topics like relationships and equity, how to check in with students online” to find out how they’re doing, observes Nichols.
Other topics to explore are “adjusting instruction in changing environments, if students lack internet access. Tech tools…Managing and modifying the scope of curriculum, [making] lessons doable online so all students have the same experience. How to continue to monitor that collaboration; how to expand that experience so students succeed. We’ll put it in Zoom as a seminar-style presentation: how to succeed and help students succeed,” Nichols explains.
“In Zoom, we will invite the community to hear what our students have done and how they’ve used NSTA resources. How to maintain rigor and equity during remote learning is an asset! No lecturing for 20 minutes by a teacher; what a Zoom session should look like…Science will not be taught the same way. [Lessons will] align with the three-dimensional learning called for by the Next Generation Science Standards, which NSTA supports,” Staples contends.
Nichols adds, “The seminar is for teachers, but we’re inviting the community so they know what we’re doing. Despite the craziness, there’s still a bit of normalcy. We have a plan and ideas. We’ll give them something to look forward to. Teachers have their best interest in mind and will help.”
“All future science teachers know [this:] ‘It’s a great to be a science teacher, prepared at Kansas State University.’ We are grateful to have amazing leaders supporting the KSU-NSTA student chapter. Dean Debbie Mercer and Assistant Dean Todd Goodson, department chair, Curriculum and Instruction, make the vision a reality,” Staples adds.
NSTA has more than 100 student chapters. NSTA and the student chapters are separate but interdependent organizations that have elected to ally themselves to encourage professional learning and networking of preservice teachers of science from across the United States and Canada. Student chapter participation offers opportunities for increased leadership skills, career growth, and networking for students and faculty. Learn more here.