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Carrboro Elementary Hosts Citizen Science Series

Samantha Nguyen, Gifted Education Specialist at Carrboro Elementary School (CES), recognizes the opportunities teachers have to connect their students to the community more broadly during this time when so much communication is virtual. She has developed a program called Citizen Scientist Series, allowing CES students to interact and learn from local scientists. “In addition to fostering student curiosity,” Nguyen said, “I am also working on introducing students to diverse perspectives and backgrounds in science. It has been a really fun and engaging experience, and the students have had so much fun.”  

Each month, Nguyen introduces students to a new scientist by providing a pre-recorded clip through the Flipgrid platform. Teachers receive an email with the link each month to share with their students in SeeSaw or Google Classroom. The link is also shared in the CES parent newsletter. In the scientist introduction, students are invited to submit their own questions using Flipgrid. At the end of the month, Nguyen records a Q&A session with the scientist, who answers the students’ questions. The videos provide a highlight once a month during the virtual Friday Cub Rally, a pep rally that has been a tradition at CES for years. 

Scientist citizen at CES In October, students were able to learn about vaccines from scientist Michael Murray at Fujifilm Diosynth, who is working on a Coronavirus vaccine. Murray also happens to be married to first grade CES teacher, Susan Murray. The Q&A for the vaccine presentation can be seen here.

Carmen Kreiss, a fifth grade student at CES, said, “I think having Citizen Scientists helps kids learn more about science. For example, we had a scientist who studies vaccines, and he explained how scientists make vaccines and make sure they work. It is different from face-to-face learning because we have real life scientists come to virtual learning, so we have a benefit of a first hand account instead of having a second hand account from the teachers.”

In November, the scientist was Dawn Rogers, a beekeeper and member of the Orange County Beekeepers Association. Nguyen was even invited out to Rogers’ apiary, where she put on full beekeeper gear and watched as Rogers showed the inner workings of a hive. Nguyen collaborated with CES parent and film director, Matthew Durning, to create an informational video to go along with the Q&A.

CES citizen scientist Sadie Mersereau, another fifth grade student, said, “Mrs Nguyen (we call her the brain stretching teacher) has set up a Q&A to ask scientists who specialize in different things, using the platform Flipgrid. Last month, Mrs Nguyen actually went to the beekeeper’s hive and made a video for us! We got to see the queen bee, and the birth of a new bee! It helps me learn in a different way than in our virtual classroom, because you can see other classmates’ questions, which can help spark curiosity in your brain. I think that the citizen scientist is a way to learn about science in a way that isn't taught in the normal classroom. Instead of a teacher teaching us about science, we learn from an actual scientist, which is extra cool! We've only done it for a few months, but I am looking forward to more!”

Because Nguyen works so hard to make these opportunities accessible to all students, she has found that the majority of students who have participated so far are not the same students who are in her groups. “One of my Professional Development Plan goals was to increase the ways that I enrich learning opportunities for all students in our school,” Nguyen said, “and based on how things have gone so far, I am confident that I will reach way more students than I do traditionally through small group instruction.  It is a nice complement to what I currently do, and a fun way to encourage learning and curiosity school wide. It has been such a rewarding and fun way to get students excited and foster their curiosity about science and their communities.”