Brandman alumna offers key insights during O.C. rollout of science standards
Brandman University’s Irvine campus classrooms were abuzz with activity recently. K-12 teachers and administrators were building windmills, creating rain shadow models and drawing solar systems.
It was all part of the Next Generation Science Standards rollout for Orange County public schools. Among the 27 presenters guiding their fellow teachers and administrators through the “how” of the science standards was recent Brandman M.A. in Education and Administrative Leadership graduate Meg Vanek.
Vanek, a “teacher on special assignment” or TOSA for the Irvine Unified School District, specializes in elementary science education and curriculum development. She and fellow presenter and Irvine science teacher Lori Fallace focused on the literacy skills that are part of the science standards.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking “literacy” means writing a coherent lab notebook describing a science experiment. For the next generation of science students, literacy means written, verbal and visual communication skills that show they understand the natural world.
“Science is loud,” said Vanek. It’s one of the reasons the rollout includes school administrators who might wonder why science classrooms are noisy and interactive. “It means everyone is involved and learning.”
California adopted the science standards in 2013. It’s part of the STEM – science, technology, engineer and math – emphasis in K-12 public schools. The rollout follows a framework designed to help teachers understand the changes and begin implementing them in their classrooms gradually. Programs like the one held at the Brandman campus and organized by the Orange County Department of Education give the participants both hands-on experience with aspects of the curriculum and information to take back to their schools.
In some ways, it’s similar to the program at Brandman that Vanek completed in 2017. The M.A.-ELA program was “beyond invaluable,” she said. “So much of what I was asked to do was relatable to my job.”
Vanek learned about the degree program thanks to information from her district’s human relations department. Because of the way the program is structured, she was able to work full time and complete her master’s without having to devote multiple summers to it. “The people affiliated with the program know what works in education,” said Vanek.
Another factor in her decision was the connection with Pat White, Ed.D., the associate dean of the School of Education and former superintendent of the Irvine school district. The program’s emphasis on understanding change (a favorite topic of White’s) and how it affects educational organizations were more relevant to Vanek than other programs she explored.
While she was initially disappointed that there wasn’t a large enough group to form a cohort in Irvine, which meant her classes were all online, she said it worked out better than she thought it would. “It was so intensive, but once you get going, it becomes part of your life.”
Just the way she hopes understanding the natural world becomes part of the next generation of students’ lives.
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