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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.