Introducing the Science Friday Educator Collaborative

16:46 minutes

From left to right, top to bottom: Beth Topinka (S.T.E.A.M. lab teacher for grades 2-5), Susan Romano (high school physics teacher), Ryan Hollister (geoscience and AP environmental science teacher), Ryan Becker (middle school physical science teacher), Katharine Hinkle (high school earth science teacher), and Samantha Adams (twelfth-grade geoscience teacher).
From left to right, top to bottom: Beth Topinka (S.T.E.A.M. lab teacher for grades 2-5), Susan Romano (high school physics teacher), Ryan Hollister (geoscience and AP environmental science teacher), Ryan Becker (middle school physical science teacher), Katharine Hinkle (high school earth science teacher), and Samantha Adams (twelfth-grade geoscience teacher).

As far back as the 1990s, when Ira first brought a science experiment to Capitol Hill—he built a comet out of ice and oil with then-senators John Glenn and Chuck Robb—Science Friday has been shining a spotlight on the educational value of doing science. Education is one of Science Friday’s core missions, and every week we work to inspire learners both in and out of the classroom.

Science Friday is now unveiling the biggest, most ambitious education project ever attempted in our decades-long commitment to science education. It’s called the Science Friday Educator Collaborative. Six teachers who have found inspiration in Science Friday media have put together a group of teaching resources that anyone can use to go out and do the science we cover every week. Science Friday’s education program assistant, Xochitl Garcia, and two of our new teacher collaborators, Ryan Becker and Katharine Hinkle, join Ira to kick off an inspiring partnership in science education.

Want to be part of our next group of educator collaborators? Applications will be available starting in November. Check back here for more information.

Segment Guests

Xochitl Garcia

Xochitl Garcia was Science Friday’s K-12 education program manager. She is a former teacher who spends her time cooking, playing board games, and designing science investigations from odds and ends she’s stockpiled in the office (and in various drawers at home).

Ryan Becker

Ryan Becker teaches science at Woodstock Union Middle School in Woodstock, Vermont. A passionate middle level educator for the last 15 years, Ryan constantly looks for ways to nurture curiosity, creativity and problem solving in his classroom. It’s not unusual to find his students engineering solar collectors, creating science videos, writing science haikus, and exploring who scientists are, as well as how, where, and why they do what they do.

Katharine Hinkle

As a high school earth science teacher at Innovation Academy Charter School in Massachusetts, Katharine Hinkle’s unflagging goal is to get her students excited about venturing outside and observing their environment. She wants her classes to understand how familiar landscapes form and how scientific issues play out in their local communities.

Segment Transcript

IRA FLATOW: This is Science Friday. I’m Ira Flatow. We often receive emails and letters from fans of our radio show. But one, that we got this week, was especially well timed. It was from Ms. Larkin Beaman, a math and science teacher at East Middle School in Grand Junction, Colorado. And each Friday, she writes us, her seventh grade math students listen to Science Friday. And they draw or sketch what comes to their mind.

Ms. Beaman writes, all of their wanderings are so wonderful. I would really love to send you a sample of what your radio show brings up in the heads of middleschoolers. Thanks for your inspiration. Well, Ms. Beaman did send us a bunch of stuff that’s really cool looking. And you can see the 7th graders drawings on Tumblr, at our Tumblr site, ScienceFriday.tumblr.com.

Well, we love it when students and teachers get inspired by what we do. And wouldn’t you know it, we have a whole portion of our website dedicated to inspiring and educating students, or anyone who wants to learn. And today we’re unveiling the biggest, most ambitious education project we’ve ever attempted in our decades-long commitment to science education. It is called the Science Friday Educator Collaborative.

Six teachers who have been inspired by Science Friday Media, just like the kids in Ms. Beaman’s class– these six teachers have put together a group of teaching resources that anyone can use to do the science that we cover here on the show. We have hands-on experiments, and lessons, and curricula. And in a minute, we’ll meet a couple of those teachers and hear about what they have created. First, to kick it all off, I want to introduce Science Friday’s Education Program Assistant, Xochitl Garcia. Hi, Xochitl.


IRA FLATOW: Tell us about Science Friday’s education mission.

ZOCHITL GARCIA: Well, part of our education mission at Science Friday is to take the amazing science stories covered by Science Friday each week, and figure out a way to have people do the science. So what we’re invested in is this idea that getting hands on and nitty gritty with science helps people really connect to the stories that inspire them. So that’s kind of what we do at Educate.

IRA FLATOW: So this is the first year that we are doing this big, ambitious project together with these six teachers.


IRA FLATOW: Tell us about the Collaborative.

ZOCHITL GARCIA: OK, so the Science Friday Educator Collaborative is our newest education initiative. Basically, Ariel and I, who work in Educate–

IRA FLATOW: Ariel Zych.

ZOCHITL GARCIA: Ariel Zych. We see teachers all the time, kind of like the teacher you spoke about earlier, who are inspired by Science Friday Media and excited to teach these things to their students. And they have novel approaches to STEM education. And so we just want to show those approaches to a broader education audience. And we want to get some of our listeners involved in the types of projects that they create every day for their classroom.

And it increases public awareness and appreciation of the STEM teaching profession. There are really creative educators out there. And they’re doing this every day. And so we just kind of want to show the public what they have.

IRA FLATOW: So we have these six teachers that we’re collaborating with.

ZOCHITL GARCIA: We do and they’re from all over the country. So we have teachers from California. One of our teachers, Ryan Hollister, he created this VR photosphere where you can actually go visit the Columns of the Giants in California, and you can pick up rocks, and you can look at them and examine them for evidence of how that landscape was formed. And so these teachers are just really coming up with these amazing experiences for their students. And so we just kind of help them put these online, so that other people can get to them.

IRA FLATOW: It’s great stuff. And then this is just the beginning, right? We’re going to have a new class of educators next year.

ZOCHITL GARCIA: Hopefully. This has been the best part of working at Science Friday. Working at Science Friday is an amazing experience, and I feel very inspired on a weekly basis. But talking to these educators about their ideas, they blew me out of the water. So we’re going to run this annually. And it’s because we want to get their voices out there, and show their creative approaches.

And so we will be opening a new application for educator collaborators in November. So we’ll be rolling out these six resources in the fall. We have three of them up on Science Friday Educate right now. And we will be recruiting new teachers to join our new cohort.

IRA FLATOW: So how are you going to handle these people? How do you handle new teachers, who– all of them– who are listening to this and now want to be part of this? Can they apply?

ZOCHITL GARCIA: I want all of them.

IRA FLATOW: OK, how do they apply for this?

ZOCHITL GARCIA: You can all apply. The applications aren’t up yet. But if you go to ScienceFriday.com/educate, you can find information about our current collaborators, as well as see their resources. And you can do two things. You can either check back to that site periodically. Or you can sign up for our Educate newsletter, where they will get information about when the application goes up online.

IRA FLATOW: Thank you, Xochitl.


IRA FLATOW: Xochitl Garcia is a Science Friday’s Education Program Assistant. Now let’s go talk to some of those teachers. And we’re going to be joined by two of the teachers in this inaugural class of Science Friday’s Educator Collaborative. Ryan Becker teaches physical science– I used to love it when they said, it’s physics– at Woodstock Union Middle School in Woodstock, Vermont. Welcome, Ryan.

RYAN BECKER: Thanks, great to be here.

IRA FLATOW: Katharine Hinkle is an earth science teacher at Innovation Academy Charter School in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. That’s near Lowell, outside of Boston, right, Katharine?

KATHARINE HINKLE: Yes, it is. Thanks so much for having me today.

IRA FLATOW: Well, thank you both for being with us today. Let me begin with Ryan. Your work on illustrated graphics was inspired by a profile we did on a woman named Jill Pelto, right?

RYAN BECKER: Yes, my work was 100% inspired by the work of Jill Pelto, who’s an artist and scientist. And she’s created this really unique approach that meshes art in scientific data. In what in my resource, I refer to as illustrated graphs.

IRA FLATOW: And they’re beautiful, because they’re very well done. And it looks like there’s terrain there, but it’s actually the little peaks and valleys of a graphs sunk into it.

RYAN BECKER: Absolutely. So illustrated graphs, the idea is that they convey visual stories about real scientific data. And they can touch on current impacts, or even implications, or personal experiences. And they’re created using whatever medium that the artist wants. Pelto use as watercolor paints. But you could use digital mash-ups. You could use markers, pencil. And all can be equally effective. And I think, what you touched on, was that defining feature of illustrated graphs and what makes them more than just pieces of art is the fact that they really strategically incorporate that line or curve of the graph as part of the visual story they’re trying to tell about the data.

IRA FLATOW: And Katharine, your resource the Albedo Effect. What Science Friday Media inspired that? Tell us about that effect and why you used it.

KATHARINE HINKLE: Yeah, I was inspired by an interview that I heard. Science Friday Associate Producer, Alexa Lim, talked to a couple of research ecologists about the urban heat island effect. And I wanted to take that concept and apply it to an engineering design challenge. So my students were asked to take a situation where a hypothetical school has to hold recess in their parking lot. But at certain times of the year, because of how hot it gets because of the black pavement, it’s very uncomfortable to go out and play. So they need to design components that can lower the temperature on the parking lot, as well as maintain a certain number of parking spaces.

IRA FLATOW: So I looked at it. It’s a great little project. They’re going out and measuring surfaces to see how much heat is reflected– sunlight and then is reflected off the different services, leafs, or concrete, or asphalt, and stuff like that, to see the differences, measure the albedo, the reflectivity of it.

KATHARINE HINKLE: Yeah, that’s right. And then they can take their data of that study, and then apply it to how they want to add those components into the parking lot space to cool down the temperature. And then they take their studies and share out their designs. And then we think about more global issue of how albedo effects melting ice caps. And I have been listening to an interview with Alan Shepard, who’s the Director of polar Observation and Modeling, when he came on the show and talked about super glacial lakes and how that accelerates the melting of Greenland’s ice sheets.

IRA FLATOW: As a student of history of science, I was struck that you’re actually recreating sort of an experiment that Benjamin Franklin did. And he took out many different materials onto the snow, and saw how black, and white, and what the different colors were melting into the snow. So it was sort of a historical event that you’ve got going on there.

KATHARINE HINKLE: Yeah, that’s a wonderful connection.

IRA FLATOW: And Ryan, do you teach the teachers how to creatively represent the data? Do you give them some ideas and walk them through that?

RYAN BECKER: Yeah, so I don’t know that I teach them, because I really think part of the artistic process is that artistic freedom that’s there. But my resource is designed to really act as a guide to help teachers bring this creative approach into their classroom.

IRA FLATOW: And how did you get involved in this?

RYAN BECKER: So my encounter with the Educator Collaborative, I think, happened through a tweet. So I’m pretty active on Twitter for science purposes and professional development. And I believe I saw a tweet that was about this opportunity. And it seemed exciting. And so I applied. And with the help of the folks in my application, I was lucky enough to be accepted. And I’m here today.

KATHARINE HINKLE: Yeah, that was my same experience as following on Twitter. And I go to Science Friday all the time for my lesson plans. So I saw that pop up.

IRA FLATOW: And Zochitl, how did you find these teachers? Did they find us?

ZOCHITL GARCIA: Well, kind of like what Katharine and Ryan said. A lot of teachers found us on Twitter. But we also have a lot of partner organizations that we work with. And we were lucky that Math for America also put it out to their teachers to sign up for this program. And that’s how we got one of our educators, Samantha Adams. So a lot of the organizations we work with in 100Kin10 put this out to teachers that they work with, in order to get like a wide net cast.

And we had a lot of Science Friday listeners. A lot of dedicated teachers listen to Science Friday on a weekly basis. And so we had a lot of applications from educators who just are Science Friday fans.

IRA FLATOW: And how difficult is it for teachers to do these projects?

ZOCHITL GARCIA: So what we are trying to do with at the Collaborative is take advantage of experiences that teachers already create using Science Friday Media in their classroom. And so really, I think, this is for any experienced STEM educator. So if you’ve had a number of years in the classroom, and you are feeling excited about bringing current science and current media into your class, and that’s something that you do, this is the opportunity for you to put that approach out there. And so I encourage everyone to apply. I shouldn’t probably say that on air–

IRA FLATOW: No, it’s good. We want to get as many people involved. I also want to know– and I’ll ask Katharine this question. I’ve been following the state of teacherdom for many, many years. And over the years, we keep hearing that many teachers, who actually become science teachers, are not science teachers to begin with. And therefore, they have trouble teaching science. Let me first remind everybody that this is Science Friday from PRI, Public Radio International. And is it possible, Katharine, do you think that teachers who maybe were once social studies teachers can follow these lessons very well?

KATHARINE HINKLE: Yeah, oh, absolutely. And I think especially with the aid of such wonderful media on Science Friday. Because really, it’s just about getting students involved in creative projects that help them work on fundamental skills that apply across the curriculum, and supporting them in that.

IRA FLATOW: Let me see if I can go to the phones. Yeah, let’s go to Mark in Bedford, Massachusetts. Hi, welcome to Science Friday. Hey, Mark, are you there?


Whoa, having cell phone problems or something. I’m going to drop out of that one. But he was making an interesting comment, and I want to make that to Ryan, is that basically he said, STEM, which we all talk about– science, technology, engineering, and math– let me ask all of you. This is really the STEAM part, where you put the arts, and turn STEM into STEAM. And the kinds of things that you’re doing really is sort of turning them into artwork, isn’t it? And Katharine, would you agree with that?

KATHARINE HINKLE: Yeah, absolutely. I think that students really just want to do something tangible with their hands. They want to create. They’re inherently naturally creative. And our job really is just finding the right projects for them where they can channel those creative ideas, and what they already have.

IRA FLATOW: And what do you do in your classroom, what kind of satisfaction do you get when you see the kids doing all this kind of stuff?

KATHARINE HINKLE: Oh, it’s incredible. The best day is when they’re all so immersed in their own projects that they barely know that I’m there. And that’s a really good day when they are just so invested, inherently, in their project and doing well. That’s when I’m at my happiest.

IRA FLATOW: And Ryan, when you incorporate artwork into your graphs, how do you choose what kind of artwork, whether it’s going to be a forest, or a rock formation, or something like that? Do you keep the kids in mind for that?

RYAN BECKER: Yeah, I think so. I think one of the real positives of the resource that I’ve created, and it’s a [INAUDIBLE] as many as my assignments as possible is this degree of choice. And so the ability to kind of turn it to the students, and let them have choice in what they’re trying to represent, and how they’re trying to represent it, I think is a real strength. [INAUDIBLE] something that I’m always trying to bring into the classroom.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah. And Katharine, what do you say to people who think that science teachers can’t be creative?

KATHARINE HINKLE: Oh, no. I want everyone to know that being a science teacher is incredibly creative, and fun too. And we certainly have content standards that we have to work within, but how we present our material to the students, and the projects and work we give them to engage them and work on their skills, it’s a craft. And it’s never boring. It always changes. And that’s not to say it’s not hard, but it’s certainly worth doing and a lot of fun.

IRA FLATOW: Do the kids look forward to doing these things?

KATHARINE HINKLE: I hope so. I think to. Yeah, definitely.

IRA FLATOW: Because they get their hands on stuff. They get they go outside, and explore, and look at the world around them. Zochitl, I’m sure you were thinking about that.

ZOCHITL GARCIA: I was definitely thinking about that. Every single one of these resources, when I received the pitch, because part of our process is that they choose a piece of media and pitch what they want to write. And I was just so jazzed to hear about each one of these. So as a life long learner, I wanted to engage in these right away. So I think there is definitely a measure of excitement about each resource. And it’s part of that educator’s excite that gets communicated.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, because we have been talking about with the Science Club, go out and explore things.

ZOCHITL GARCIA: Yeah, exactly.

IRA FLATOW: And this is just taking it on steroids, so to speak.

ZOCHITL GARCIA: It really is. It’s like teachers’ science club, which is pretty awesome.

IRA FLATOW: Yeah, well, I want to thank both of you for taking time to be with us today. And inviting all teachers, we have these free resources up on our website now at ScienceFriday.com/educate. Zochitl Garcia, Science Friday’s Education Program Assistant, thank you.

ZOCHITL GARCIA: Thank you for having me.

IRA FLATOW: Thanks for all you do for us. Ryan Becker teaches physics at Woodstock Union Middle School in a Woodstock, Vermont. And Katharine Hinkle, earth science teacher at Innovation Academy Charter School in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts.


IRA FLATOW: We’ll be checking back with you. Good luck with your projects.

KATHARINE HINKLE: Thanks so much.

RYAN BECKER: Thanks very much.

IRA FLATOW: You’re welcome.

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