Middle School Science Teacher
Science teacher Megan Rademacher has gone to the ends of the earth – and even to space camp — to bring inquiry-based learning techniques back to her sixth-graders. After trips to Namibia, Belize, Thailand and Kenya to work with conservationists through an organization called Earth Expeditions, she asks her students to develop their own experiments and observations about how plants adapt to their ecosystems, the functions of an elephant’s trunk or why primates climb. “After four of these experiences now, I would say 75% of my classroom instruction is inquiry-driven,” she says. “We have all the same concepts and content, but how we go about learning that information varies depending on the interest of the child.”
The excursions have given Mrs. Rademacher materials to use in her classroom and prompted her to create special activities for the children. After her 2005 trip to a cheetah reserve in Namibia, she started a Conservation Club and invited the zoo to bring cheetahs into her classroom. After her 2006 meetings with researchers protecting howler monkeys, manatees and sea turtles in Belize, she worked with her students to develop inquiry-based learning activities at the zoo. A visit with Buddhist conservationists in Thailand in 2007 prompted her to start the Inquiry Fair and install a mindfulness bell in her classroom. After her 2009 trip to Kenya, she worked with a teacher from Chicago to develop inquiry activities for zoos. “My group tested them at the Cincinnati Zoo and his group tested them at the Lincoln Park Zoo so they would be applicable at other zoos. We came up with four different inquiry activities that we’re hoping eventually the zoos will publish on their web sites so teachers can use them.”
She also visited Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala., thanks to a scholarship from Honeywell. While the sixth-grade science curriculum does not include study of the solar system, she did bring back seeds that had been on the International Space Station for classroom experiments and a better understanding of how to build teams. Through team-building exercises she learned, she teachers her students that – like the astronauts – “you really have to rely on one another to get a job done.”
The point of inquiry-based learning, she says is for the students to begin thinking like scientists in every course they study. “I want them to learn how to think scientifically. I want them to learn how to ask good questions, to find the answers. I want them to start to think of themselves as scientists, to see the scientific process as a way to help them improve whatever they want to do in life.”
“Memorizing a bunch of facts that might change over time isn’t important to an 11-year-old. It’s the thinking skills, it’s the problem-solving skills we really focus on. The other stuff is important, but I think this is my area of expertise.”
Teaches sixth grade science and sixth grade resources. Serves on review panel for the National Science Teachers Association journal Science and Children. Began Summit in 1994-95. B.A. and M.A.T. , University of Pittsburgh.
Lives in Loveland with husband, Eric, director of the Ohio Poll at the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati. Three children: Josh, Emma and Keelin. Born in an Army hospital in Ft. Rucker, Ala., but grew up in Pittsburgh so she’s a Steelers and Penguins fan. Claim to fame: American composer Floyd St. Clair was her great-great grandfather. Loves it when she has a 70-minute block with her resources class. “I just adore them.”