Michigan State University Assistant Professor Terrance Burgess has earned a nearly $630,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to incorporate youth experiences and community learning into elementary science classrooms.
The work is funded through NSF’s CAREER program, the “most prestigious awards” the organization offers for “early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”
Burgess’ work will center in a Lansing elementary school and focus on how children can be central components in developing science curricula and how children can enact change in their community.
The grant, “Developing a Participatory Model for Elementary Science for Community Change,” will focus on students in grades 3-5. Broadly, its goal is to develop a way for schools to incorporate youth into the curriculum development process by identifying scientific inquiries that will have meaning within their lives and community.
“This idea comes from my earlier scholarship and inquiries around scientific identities,” said Burgess, who joined the Department of Teacher Education in 2020. “Curriculum is often preset at schools; it may or may not be relevant or interesting to the lives of students. That impacts how, or if, they come to give themselves as scientists. But, if children had an opportunity to design what they consider to be science, what bearing would it have on how they view themselves?”
In the initial phases of the project, Burgess will learn about the students and their lived experiences to co-create scientific inquiries they will pursue over the remainder of the grant. Burgess will utilize interviews with students and teachers, curriculum analyses and more to define the successes of the learning model.
Notably, the work will use the youth participatory science model for the work — among the first research projects to adapt this model in an elementary context.
“Children have a wealth of knowledge and resources. I want this project to hone and harness that. I want teachers and administrators to see the value in that,” Burgess said.
Burgess also has visions for community engagement beyond the classroom. As part of the grant, Burgess, the students and educators will also develop to-be-determined products that will share findings about their scientific learnings to inform, educate and, ideally, empower the public into being more engaged with science in their surroundings. He will work with the Black Male Educator Alliance, a community-based organization, to further develop and share the resulting curriculum.
“This is what we should be doing as education scholars: being in classrooms and learning from and with students and educators,” Burgess said. “I was interested in coming to Michigan State University in part because of its land-grant commitment. I don’t want to just do work that exists within the walls of the university. I want to do work that has implications beyond the institution. This grant is a path to do that.”