Centering curiosity: Fellowship opportunity provides MSU scholar chance to reimagine elementary science

March 14, 2022

What could happen to learning outcomes in elementary science classrooms if we let imaginations run wild?

It’s an exciting thought for Michigan State University Assistant Professor Terrance Burgess, and one he’ll be able to engage with deeply as one of two scholars named a 2022 Tinker Fellow by the Concord Consortium.

The yearlong fellowship provides an opportunity for scholars to tap into innovation and creativity to reimagine educational technology in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) teaching and learning.

For Burgess, the fellowship will also be a way to provide curricula to classrooms that centers the voices of youth of color as they engage in science learning.

In order to make learning more meaningful and for students to be more excited and interested in learning about science, class structures need to be reframed to ask and answer two questions, says Burgess:

“We want students to ask: What is something happening around me that I can investigate through a science lens? Then, after I’ve taken some time to research it and I understand it better: What am I going to do with that knowledge to make a change in my community?”

During the fellowship, Burgess hopes to make curricula led by curiosity rather than constraints: having students identify questions relevant to their world and using those as an impetus for learning.

“We don’t want kids to learn science just for the sake of learning science. It’s more important—and valuable—for learning to take place in a context,” Burgess explained.

Learning from prior work

Collaboration will be key to the fellowship. Other research projects, Burgess says, are ways to explore how processes and strategies were adopted to shape communities of learners as he sets out to do the same.

MothEd, for example, is more than learning about moths—it is a chance for students to understand key concepts about ecosystems in which they live. The project is co-led by David Stroupe, associate professor and associate director of STEM Teacher Education at MSU’s CREATE for STEM Institute.

Photo courtesy of MothEd researchers.

Bio4Community is a research initiative that focuses on co-designing a curriculum unit with minoritized youth and teachers around a community health issue. It is led by scholars from Rutgers University, University of North Carolina-Greensboro and the Concord Consortium. Burgess met with the project’s principal investigators and hopes to work with them throughout the fellowship to fine-tune his own ideas.

“Dr. Burgess’ work is of critical importance, especially in a time when identification with science and scientific thinking seems to be faltering in so many crucial ways in our society,” said Chad Dorsey, president and CEO of the Concord Consortium. “His commitment to understanding how the experiences of children of color can come into play in fostering meaningful engagement with science learning is precisely what is needed for so many in education today. We’re simply thrilled for this opportunity to honor Dr. Burgess’ work and we’re excited to see what new ideas and collaborations might result from his interaction with staff and projects during the fellowship.”

Burgess, a former high school science teacher who joined the College of Education faculty in 2020, will begin fellowship work in spring 2022. He will spend time planning, researching—and, yes, letting his own imagination run wild—possibilities before working with communities in the fall to implement the work. Findings and tools as outcomes of the fellowship are expected to follow in spring 2023.

Learn more about community-engaged science and other aspects of Burgess’ work: