TMC Professors Collaborate to “Plant Seeds” in Boone County

TMC Professors Collaborate to “Plant Seeds” in Boone County

High school teachers exploring a nearby woodland and sampling leaves of the invasive species Amur maackii to test photosynthetic hypotheses

High school teachers exploring a nearby woodland and sampling leaves of the invasive species Amur maackii to test photosynthetic hypotheses.

Thomas More College’s experiential learning initiative in the STEM disciplines continues to extend beyond our college students. This past year, faculty from several departments (biological sciences, chemistry, education) began a new collaboration with the Boone County Schools for hands-on professional development through the “Planting Seeds” program. Funded generously by a competitive grant from the American Society of Plant Biologists, science faculty led multiple Saturday workshops for fourteen high school teachers, who were all selected as leaders and innovators in their field.

High school teachers having fun testing each other on identifying plant-derived scents with Dr. Bill Wetzel (Thomas More College, Chemistry), seen lower right.

High school teachers having fun testing each other on identifying plant-derived scents with Dr. Bill Wetzel (TMC, Chemistry), seen lower right.

During each workshop, Thomas More College faculty facilitated and collaborated on plant-based projects with the high school teachers. Workshop topics varied from photosynthesis and invasive species, to plant decomposition dynamics, to plant chemistry, and discussions on how to integrate inquiry-based activities.

The goal of the workshops was to provide teachers with innovative ideas and procedures that could be applied in their high school classrooms. The principal investigator of the project, Dr. Shannon Galbraith-Kent (associate professor, biological sciences), shared that, “These workshops presented new and exciting topics to complement the high school curriculum. And, by basing these workshops on the ‘5E’ inquiry-based model, supplying the teachers with ample resources (e.g., plant research data sets), and ways to adapt sessions for their specific classrooms, we are hopefully impacting thousands of students in one of the fastest growing school systems in the state.”

In a session with Dr. Shannon Galbraith-Kent (Thomas More College, Biological Sciences), high school teachers experience first-hand the “5Es” with regards to a leaf litter decomposition activity that compares two different forest communities.

In a session with Dr. Shannon Galbraith-Kent (TMC, Biological Sciences), high school teachers experience first-hand the “5Es” with regards to a leaf litter decomposition activity that compares two different forest communities.

All participants (faculty and teachers) kept in communication with each other throughout the spring on a forum-based website, which allowed for discussion and interaction between workshops. During the final workshop, the high school teachers gave presentations on inquiry-based plant activities, as well as their most effective method of teaching with regard to the high school curriculum.

A high school teacher (Ms. Melissa Stolz) is excited to share the results of her pollinator syndrome activity, facilitated by Dr. Dustin Swanson, seen standing (Thomas More College, Biological Sciences).

High school teacher Ms. Melissa Stolz is excited to share the results of her pollinator syndrome activity, facilitated by Dr. Dustin Swanson, seen standing (TMC, Biological Sciences).

The feedback from “Planting Seeds” was overwhelmingly positive. The post-workshop data revealed that the participating high school teachers felt much more comfortable with plant biology content, as well as their ability to lead an inquiry-based discussion.

According to an external evaluator, 100 percent of participating teachers found the information useful and applicable in their classrooms, a much higher figure than most professional development programs. Learning with Thomas More College faculty and their peers, two of the participating teachers shared, “I started this journey not being a ‘plant person.’ Today, I understand the importance of teaching plants and how they can easily be integrated into my classroom” and “this program was a true partnership.”

At our first workshop, Dr. Kim Haverkos (Thomas More College, Education) engages high school teachers in understanding NGSS practices and application in their classrooms.

At the first workshop, Dr. Kim Haverkos (TMC, Education) engages high school teachers in understanding NGSS practices and application in their classrooms.

Dr. Galbraith-Kent said, “The collaboration we have built with these incredibly talented teachers is strong and Thomas More hopes to provide another similar opportunity in the next few months.”  As the required high school curriculum shifts toward inquiry-based activities and new standards, hands-on training for our teachers will be essential for the next generation of students.

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