Randy Sweeney – Science Educator since 1963

My interest in teaching science to adolescent age students began in 1963. That was the year I joined the Peace Corps. For two years I taught science and helped develop the first high school in Pleebo, Liberia. This was the start of a career searching for the most effective techniques to teach students in under served communities about science—how to develop their own scientific questions, and utilize the highest quality information to make good life decisions.

From 1967 to 1973, I taught at Marshall High School to students from the mostly African-American community located on Chicago’s West Side. Since 1979 I have worked with inner city youth in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). For 17 years, I taught at Jordan High School, one of several high schools in the Watts community in Los Angeles. In 1996 I moved to Jefferson High School, and taught students from the Hispanic and African-American communities of South-Central Los Angeles. I retired from my teaching at Jefferson in June 2012, but hope to continue my work with adolescents and would be excited to devote myself to the goals of The National Academies Teacher Advisory Council.

My biology curriculum in 1967 began with a focus on the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) Green Version. My classes focused on learning about the scientific process and developed through my years working with other science teachers both at the UCLA Summer Science Projects, and early in the 1990s with science and math teachers as a Support Director with Teach for America. With the change in emphasis to informational standards that began with the revision of the California Science Curriculum in the late 1980’s, my biology classes evolved an additional component of science programming from the Public Broadcast System (PBS). These PBS programs not only address important scientific issues, but also show some of the world’s notable scientists at work in their own laboratories at prestigious universities and other research facilities and document science as a global process.

In the past 10 years or so, the pedagogy where I focus on PBS science and nature programming had become a major component of my regular science curriculum. The students’ principle written work related to these very interesting programs is to write an assignment entitled “See-Think-Wonder”. This involved:
1. What does the student “see” (in the program) that is of particular interest to them?
2. What does this make them “think” about as they view the program?
3. What does the program leave them “wondering” after they finish seeing the program?
I developed these classroom activities involving PBS in response to Project Zero’s work at Harvard and its efforts to develop “Visual Thinking”.

Most of my students enjoyed their interactions with PBS programming, and their “See-Think-Wonder” assignments enabled them to enhance their writing and critical thinking skills. Their awareness of ideas and information communicated through the PBS programs seemed to remain as they wanted to discuss with me questions and ideas raised in the programs years later.

The blog is going to continue by work with science education after my retirement from a regular teaching day in a public school classroom