By Merrie Koester, Ph.D, Collaborative Advisory Council member and Science Teacher Educator and STEAM Curriculum Specialist, University of South Carolina, Center for Science Education
I am a science educator, practicing visual artist, and novelist who has, for three decades, worked to link the complementary universes of science and art as ways of more fully knowing the world. My pedagogy – these days called STEAM - centers on the artful making of ideas, performances, and artifacts that ideally lead to a sense of aesthetic transformation, joy, and empowerment. Each lesson I create and present is crafted as story, with classes feeling a lot like process drama and at times, even like improvisational theatre. As a science educator working with STEAM curriculum, I work mostly in Charleston-area Title 1 middle and high schools serving low income, historically marginalized populations. In 2016, I started paying close attention to ever- increasing numbers of flooding events, attributed to both sea level rise and the development of salt marsh wetlands. Using ArcGIS mapping software and NOAA’s Sea Level Rise Viewer, I was able to determine that multiple Title 1 middle schools – especially those built on filled and paved wetlands - would be under water with a six-foot storm surge from a hurricane. Here was a story set in the Anthropocene epoch, in which both the human and non-human world had become degraded at the same time. There was also a backstory of both social and environmental injustice.
Here was a narrative, too, in which many middle and high school Next Generation Science Standards, especially the Science and Engineering Practices and Cross-Cutting Concepts, could be folded into a “plot”, featuring students in flooding schools as resources of knowledge and flood resilience for their communities. I mapped out a phenomenon-rich curriculum as a “hero’s quest”, whose “Road of Trials” would require the mastery and application of STEM knowledge/tools and the artful making of culturally responsive flooding hazard mitigation tools. Our story would be performed as participatory action research in the community with local experts and mentors.
Without hesitation, city emergency management experts, cultural leaders, school officials, professional artists, our mayor, volunteer STEM experts, and higher education thought leaders from The Citadel STEM Center and the College of Charleston all stepped up as mentors. As a result, Kids Teaching Flood Resilience was born. Over the last four years, we have reached 450 students in low-income, flood-prone neighborhoods, provided capacity-building training for 41 teachers and administrators in 5 schools, and been recognized as a NOAA Weather Ready Ambassador program of excellence.