Mackenzie Bryan,18, of Paradise, California, says that science was a simple fact of life as she was growing up. She built robots with her brother, designed buildings substituting chocolate for concrete in an engineering program for Girl Scouts at nearby Chico State University, and enjoyed trips to the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and the Smithsonian in Washington, DC.
But she realized through frequent visits to the school where her mother taught third grade that not every kid is so lucky, and so she decided to write lesson plans incorporating the hands-on science fun of her childhood for kindergarteners at the school. Her efforts earned her the Gold Award, the highest achievement given to a Girl Scout. Only about 5 percent of members earn it.
“I wanted to take what I learned about STEM my whole life and share that with a community that doesn’t have the same opportunities,” Mackenzie told Education Week.
Over the course of three years, Mackenzie created 12 kindergarten lessons in science, technology, engineering, and math, aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and to the Common Core State Standards. The lessons were designed for teachers at Hamilton Elementary where her mother now works as a guidance counselor. The school is located in a rural area outside of Chico in northern California, where 92 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, an indicator of poverty. About 92 percent of the students are Hispanic or Latino.
Hamilton Elementary kindergarten teachers provided feedback on Mackenzie’s lessons and helped her test out the activities with the students. One activity posed design challenges where students used magnetic blocks to build all sorts of structures including “something that rolls,” “something that you can ride on or in,” and “something that flies.” Another activity had students recreate a tornado using colored water in two 2-liter plastic bottles joined by a washer.
Mackenzie, with the help of her father and brother, built blocks for another activity using recycled wood from their deck. Mackenzie said the kids use the blocks to build a tower one piece at a time without knocking it down, as in the game Jenga. “They learn science concepts like gravity when the blocks tumble over,” Mackenzie explained. “I also show them that they could use the blocks to learn math. We put two blocks together to add one plus one equals two, or take a block away to subtract, and it sticks because the activity is visual.”
Observing the students as they tried out the activities gave Mackenzie her first indications that the lessons were a success. “When the time was up, they didn’t want to stop,” she said.
Mackenzie, who had always planned on leading a classroom of her own one day, said she learned a lot about teachers over the course of writing the lessons, and a lot about herself. “Teachers put so much hard work and dedication into their lesson plans and everything they do they just give 100 percent,” she said. “But after I did this project, I realized that this is just not my passion.”
Although she plans to pursue a business degree in college, she said her work on the project deepened her respect for teachers and the profession. “I gained such an appreciation for teachers and their willingness to do whatever it takes to help students excel in whatever they are doing.”
Photos Courtesy of Mackenzie Bryan
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.