Frank Stewart and Darren Joshua Parris are the recipients of the 2018 Education Partnership Award for their collaborative Summer Workshop in Marine Science (SWiMS) program. The award, from the Center for Teaching and Learning, recognizes genuine and substantial partnerships between the faculty and students of Georgia Tech and the K-12 community. Also receiving the award is their K-12 partner Jennifer Jones, a chemistry teacher at Rockdale County High School.
Stewart is an associate professor in the School of Biological Sciences and the advisor of Parris, a fifth-year Ph.D. student.
“I am honored and humbled to have the SWiMS partnership recognized by this award,” Stewart says. “SWiMS has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career, largely because it fosters connections to people like Jennifer and Josh. These are the connections that are honored here and that are so critical for advancing science literacy in our schools and elsewhere.”
Stewart conceived SWiMS in 2012 as a way to promote understanding of ocean science and microbiology. With oil spills, coral reef collapse, sea level rise, and ocean acidification often being front-page news, he believes the general public should have a basic understanding of these phenomena. For Stewart, these issues are just as important to policymakers and the general public as they are to researchers.
SWiMS is a five-day workshop to help middle and high school teachers develop curricula and project-learning exercises to teach marine science in the context of global change. “My overarching goal was to use marine science to enhance earth and life science education in middle and high schools, specifically targeting those in academically underperforming districts in Fulton County,” Stewart says. SWiMS draws on the expertise of marine scientists at Georgia Tech and education experts at Georgia Tech’s Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC).
Parris joined the program in summer 2015. “To put it bluntly, this program would likely not have been possible without Josh,” Stewart says.
Parris has roles throughout all stages of the program. He wrote, edited, and tested several of the education modules used in SWiMS. During workshops, he serves as instructor, preparing rigorously to guide the workshop participants.
SWiMS includes a two-day trip to Sapelo Island, a barrier island located in McIntosh County, Georgia. The trip provides participants firsthand experience and an opportunity to collect samples to take back to their classrooms. For this trip, Parris has served as primary field team leader, planning the logistics as well as conducting activities.
Most impressively, Stewart says, Parris continues to engage with teachers after the workshop. He helps teachers with curriculum-related problems arising during the school year and continues to prepare modules for teachers upon request. He recently visited Central Gwinnet High School to lecture about marine pollution.
“I am very grateful to have been a part of the SWiMS program,” Parris says. “I have been able to see firsthand the positive impact scientists can have outside of research. SWiMS is an awesome example of using partnerships between scientists and educators to advance science education in schools.”
Jones began as a participant in the workshop in 2015, returned as a mentor in 2016, and joined again in 2017 as an education consultant. A veteran teacher of 16 years, Jones had a keen sense of which concepts would translate into the classroom and which wouldn’t. Her unique insight was vital to identifying and troubleshooting obstacles and translating the curricula into targeted lesson plans. She also helped other teachers develop classroom-specific plans.
The collaboration of a scientist, a Ph.D. student, and a high school teacher has yielded remarkable outcomes. “The SWiMS program has enhanced my instruction in the classroom,” Jones says. “My students were able to understand that topics in science overlap: marine science touched Earth science, which touched environmental science, which touched chemistry. I am grateful to all the participants; they have inspired me to explore and expand my teaching so that students may experience science in a memorable way.”