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Erin Anagnost and Dr. Gleason

Erin Anagnost ’19

"Towards Project-Based Citizen Science: Environmental Education and Community Action at Lehigh Valley Summerbridge"

Major: English Studies, Early Childhood Ed. Cert.
Hometown: Easton, PA
Project Advisor: Dr. Gleason

Briefly describe your project.

This project sought to build an inquiry-based science curriculum for middle school students at Lehigh Valley Summerbridge. This 6-week science curriculum focused on providing a framework for students to explore and experience science education in real-world settings. These settings included the Monocacy Creek and the Lehigh River which flows through the backyard of students living in Bethlehem, Allentown, and Easton areas. These sites provided an area for students to conduct water and soil sample testing and experimentation, fueling their inquiry of the quality of the water systems in their community. 

The purpose of creating an inquiry-based science curriculum for Summerbridge was to oppose the way of traditional science teaching and learning being experienced by students in their home middle schools. The curriculum sought to show students that science can be done both in and outside of the classroom and that their interests and ideas are valued. 

Describe the origin of your project.

Being involved with Lehigh Valley Summerbridge for two summers is what sparked the idea for this project. Knowing that I wanted to teach environmental science this summer at Summerbridge, a curriculum recognizing and addressing the inequity of science education programs fell perfectly into place.

I approached Dr. Gleason about the project due to his expertise and passion for science education, I knew he would be the best faculty member to help bring this idea to life. Our shared passion for education sparked conversations about curriculum structures and science practices that would best serve my students at Summerbridge. 

What’s the best part about working with your faculty mentor? What valuable insights have they brought to your project?

In addition to the passion and expertise for science education that Dr. Gleason brought to our project, his experience with urban science education fueled our inquiry-based curriculum. Working with a faculty member that understood the demographic of my students helped tremendously in the creation of not only the curriculum but the teaching tactics I implemented as well.

Dr. Gleason provided me an abundance of resource materials in the form of both articles and full-length texts. Having these resources helped to speed up the research component of the project prior to beginning to build the framework for the science curriculum.

What has been your biggest obstacle so far?

The challenge I faced during this project was time...or lack thereof. Unexpected loss of instructional time at Summerbridge steered my curriculum in a different direction at times, making it difficult to fit each lesson in by the end of the six weeks. Students were flexible with the change of plans or sped up activities, but it was a challenge for me as the teacher to see some of my great ideas for lessons be tossed or shortened in order to finish larger components of the unit plan. 

What has been your biggest takeaway from this experience?

Teaching in both the public school setting and then within the community at Summerbridge provided me with a deeper understanding of the dimensions of teaching. In my experiences teaching in the public school setting, the structure of teaching is rigid, bombarded with test score goals and deadlines. Though I believe students need structure in order to be successful, I do not believe their imagination, creativity, curiosity, and interests should be silenced by the structure of education.

At Summerbridge I was given freedom from the rigid structure and the need for assessment. Not only did this make me feel more comfortable as a teacher, but my students were also visibly calm and confident in the classroom. My biggest takeaway from this experience is that there are other ways to educate students. Student curiosities and ideas can be channeled into the rigorous learning in public education settings, without the need for the abundant, and repetitive, assessment methods.

What was the result of your project? 

Ultimately, this project was a success and I came to that conclusion after hearing my students reflect on the summer. Several students, unprompted, shared that they had learned more in this six-week science course then they had in their science classes in middle school. They attributed this to the hands-on style of learning I encouraged as well as the comfort level these students felt in my classroom.

In your own words, how do you feel about being awarded this opportunity? Why should other students take advantage of the SOAR program at Moravian College?

When my project proposal was accepted by the SOAR program I felt as though I was taking a step in my professional career. Conducting research in the field of education, which I am passionate about, helped expand my understanding of student learning, teaching, and the problems that impede on both. 

In addition, I felt that my ideas were being validated through the acceptance of the SOAR program. The review of my proposal proved to be a valid and interesting topic that SOAR felt should be further explored. I am grateful for this opportunity to conduct funded research in a field that I am extremely passionate about.

To other Moravian College students, I would advise you to take advantage of this valuable opportunity. Whether you are an underclassman or a senior,  SOAR is available to you. Not only is it a personally enriching experience, but it is also a professional achievement to add to your resume. I did my SOAR project as a post-bacc student, but would encourage students to do their research prior to graduation due to the time constraints that face post-bacc students.

Now that SOAR is over, do you plan to expand upon your research? If so, how?

Presently, my research is being compiled and decisions are being made about the use of my results. Ultimately, I would like to be a co-author on a published work about science in urban settings and how an inquiry-based curriculum could transform the way we as educators teach students and our students are able to learn.

Have you, or do you plan to present this research outside the SOAR presentations?

I presented my research at the Landmark Conference Research Symposium at Elizabethtown College. I created a research poster for this conference and presented to academics from across fields. I found this presentation to be extremely beneficial in preparing me for SOAR presentations and for my public speaking abilities in general. It was interesting to see what other students had conducted research on and were passionate about. There was one other education-focused presenter and her and I were able to discuss our projects as well as our professional goals in our field.