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Dream Science Classroom Created for FOSS Middle School Teacher

FOSS Newsletter Staff
March 14, 2008 | FOSS in Schools

Top image: Brad has found new ways to incorporate his new Smart Board into his teaching.

Brad Edwards, a teacher at Rahway Middle School in Rahway, New Jersey, usually spends time during his summer working in his classroom, preparing for the next academic year. But during the summer of 2006, he was asked to stay away from the school during "asbestos removal." When he returned to Room 21 a week before classes began in September, he didn't recognize the classroom he had left in June. The Science Channel's "Dream Science Classroom" team and Brad's students had transformed the space into a futuristic classroom. A SMART Board™ had replaced the chalkboard; laptops, microscopes and other wireless devices adorned the lab tables. Where once there was one sink, now there were three, one with handicapped access.

A safety shower, eyewash station, expansive storage space, and a portable fume hood with a filtration system had also appeared. Ample power outlets and special remote-controlled window shades were also added.

Rebecca Deutscher, a member of the LHS FOSS team, found out about Brad's dream classroom through the middle school multimedia survey she distributed last year. The interest of the FOSS team was piqued, and Aimée Lyon, a FOSS consultant from Bergen, New York, followed up with Brad through an e-mail interview. Brad is a Rahway, New Jersey, native, a star athlete who had earned a college scholarship, and worked as a chemist before deciding to give back to his community and begin teaching. Here are some of his answers to the questions Aimée posed.

How long were you an industrial chemist, and what brought you to teaching?

I worked as a chemist for a little over a year. I was asked to be the guest speaker at the Sideliner's (Rahway's Booster Club) Annual dinner, and a few of my former teachers/coaches/administrators asked if I had ever considered teaching. At the time, I was beginning to think about other career options because, for lack of a better phrase, I was becoming married to my pager. Don't get me wrong. I loved the work I was doing. I just could not get used to being on call 24 hours a day and sometimes putting in 12–15 hour days. Family and my other interests were suffering and that was not a viable option for my life.

Dream Science Classroom

 

How long now have you been a classroom teacher, and what grade levels have you taught?

I have been a classroom teacher since 1999. I started as a long-term substitute teaching high school biology. In 2000, I began teaching 7th-grade science and have been ever since.

How did your district decide to nominate you for the Dream Teacher award?

The NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) and Discovery Networks conceived the idea of the Dream Science Classroom. From what I understand, over a period of several months, they had visited schools in the region to select the recipient of the classroom. I was selected to receive the Dream Science Classroom. Here's the catch. I was not aware of any of this. I was told that I was being featured with several other teachers for a documentary about the evolution of science education and how science classrooms need technological improvement. In June of 2006, a camera crew followed me for a day and documented a typical day in my teaching life, including all the extracurricular activities I am involved in. Throughout the day, I was asked numerous questions about the types of things I would need to improve my classroom. The producers said what they may do in the documentary was have an artist render what my ideal classroom would look like, and I would receive a poster of it.

What I did not know was that there was someone keeping track of everything that I said and that I was not "one of several teachers"—my classroom was the only one chosen for renovation. During that summer, our school's second and third floors were closed for "asbestos remediation." That was not true. The floors were closed while the construction of the Dream Science Classroom was taking place. I had no idea. From the beginning, I was told that they wanted to film me setting up my classroom for the year. So I walked in expecting to see my old room, but instead I walked into a new state-of-the-art classroom and was welcomed by the classroom designer, school officials, the students who gave up their summer to help, and representatives from all the companies who contributed to the project. I was told the price tag on the classroom is $250,000. Then the Dream Classroom program aired in late 2006.

Do you currently teach FOSS?

I teach two FOSS courses during the year. We began using it in 2000. We start the year with the Planetary Science Course. Our other course is Populations and Ecosystems. I was one of the National Trial Teachers for the Pop/Eco course along with my 7th-grade teaching partner. Each year when we start the course we make sure to point out our names in the resources book. We have received extensive professional development related to the kits because our district is a part of a consortium with the Merck Institute for Science Education. I have also facilitated professional development related to the courses.

How has the award enhanced your teaching/your students' love of science?

The classroom was specifically designed to support my curriculum. The SMART Board allows me limitless freedom to design lessons. There is a Classroom Performance System manufactured by eInstruction. Each student receives a remote pad for answering questions anonymously to each other but not anonymously to me. This helps me know what students are learning so that I am not leaving anyone behind. The lab stations designed by Diversified Woodcrafts are roomy and ensure that all students face forward. Discovery has provided me with online resources and classroom resources to supplement my curriculum. VWR Education donated countless other classroom resources including microscopes, a planetarium, and supplemental lab kits that are easy to integrate into what I teach. Vernier donated USB-compatible sensors and software for data collection and graphing during experiments. The ceiling is designed to look like a dig site, with numerous fossils for the students to observe. There is absolutely nothing that cannot be done in the Dream Science Classroom, especially with the wireless network and laptops.

How has your new Dream Teacher Classroom enhanced your teaching of FOSS?

The Dream Science Classroom allows me to use the FOSS materials more effectively. For example, I can find video clips to supplement most of the readings in the resource books. It is much easier to work with the FOSS multimedia on the SMART Board. I can even scan things to use during lessons. Assessment is much easier using the CPS system. I can create other assessments. Students have more than enough room to work so they are more efficient. Data collection is easier so we can spend more time discussing results at higher levels. If students are having trouble with a concept, we can quickly find supplemental activities in the classroom to bolster their understanding. All in all, the classroom allows students to address their needs uniquely. Its myriad of resources allows me to differentiate instruction and take advantage of the teacher friendly and well-structured design of the FOSS courses.

Congratulations to Brad and his students on their new science lab. We look forward to hearing more about how FOSS instruction is enhanced by this new facility.