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During the coming school year I’ll be part of an NSF GK-12 program at UCSD, which teams Ph.D. students with K-12 teachers in classrooms throughout the county.

We’re in the throes of a four-week course that preps the grad students and teachers for our collaboration in the classroom. We began with simple communication: the grad students had to strip jargon from our research explanations while the teachers had to clarify the array of acronyms used in education. Then we, the grad students, began our training to be effective teachers.

The program’s aim isn’t solely to make us better at presenting Powerpoints to a general audience. We’re pushed to dig deeper and make our research both intellectually and physically accessible to our high school students.

With the help of my mentors, I’ll develop a series of lessons drawing on coral ecology and biology, using coral reefs to teach ecosystem interconnectedness, coral energy reserves to discuss macromolecules, and coral skeletons and tissue elements to talk about isotope chemistry.

On top of that, my teaching team plans to implement a full-scale scientific experiment in the classroom, guiding, but not instructing, our students through the process of defining questions, developing hypotheses, and planning experiments, then implementing and collecting data, and finally analyzing and interpreting findings.

I’ll have the privilege of working with a team at High Tech High North County— environmental engineering teacher Chris Morissette and biology teachers Matt Leader and Parag Chowdhury — along with fellow Ph.D. student Mike Lovci. Because High Tech High is a project-based school, we have the flexibility to tackle the ambitious undertaking of studying coral health in the classroom as we attempt to build a bridge between professional science and high school education.

Our project will challenge everyone, students and teachers alike. Through the process I’m certain that the students will learn critical truths about science, such as the importance of working together, the value of detailed planning and the necessity of problem solving on the fly.

One of the major themes I’ve tried to thread into Science Minded is that science can be best learned by doing. When students have to combine book smarts and hands-on ability they have the potential to advance rapidly, and in doing so realize both their strengths and weaknesses.

To conduct the project our students will have to read and engineer, write and design, and interpret and build; it’s unlikely that any are skilled in all of these areas, but through the diversity of roles necessary to complete the project we hope that each student will find their niche.

Throughout the year I’ll use Science Minded to communicate our progress—conveying what I’m learning from the students and my mentors—both scientifically and as a budding educator. On a broader scale, I hope that our hands-on approach will engage high school students and push them to be science-literate citizens.

I’m certain that there are multitudinous teachers out there using interactive lessons in and out of the classroom. My exposure to the array of such strategies is only in its infancy and my team could certainly use your help. So please offer feedback, thoughts and suggestions as we navigate this ambitious and exciting project.