Science Education Synthesis

May 3, 2021
Dr. Suzanne Nesmith
Dr. Suzanne Nesmith at the Lake Waco Wetlands

As Dr. Suzanne Nesmith, science educator and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Education, wraps up work on a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), her project providing professional development for science teachers is now dovetailing with newly emerging collaborations.

Nesmith’s EPA grant was part of a broad cross-disciplinary effort by Baylor faculty in several academic units. Her initial grant from the EPA in 2018 provided $91,000, with matching support from Baylor of $30,000. That funded summer programs of teacher professional development at Lake Waco Wetlands for two years.

The EPA grant also included the chance for participating teachers to receive sub-grants for hands-on, environmentally based projects in their own classrooms, schools, and communities, resulting in eight projects. Students studied pollution near their schools, worked at the wetlands, learned about storm water, created videos and other projects about pollution prevention, and organized recycling efforts.

In the meantime, Baylor Assistant Professor Dr. Stephanie Boddie — who holds joint faculty appointments in the School of Education, Truett Seminary, and the Diana Garland School of Social Work — had been working on greenhouse and aquaponics projects in local schools. An energetic collaborator, Boddie found connections to schools through the SOE and then enlisted students in her graduate education course to write the greenhouse curriculum and involved engineering students to design and build a greenhouse at Connally Elementary.

Dr. Stephanie Boddie
Dr. Stephanie Boddie at Bell's Hill Elementary

Boddie’s teaching philosophy employs experiential learning to motivate students to actively use their skills and make real world applications. “The aim of the ‘Growing Leaders and Learners’ aquaponics project is to change the nature of learning with design thinking and hands-on learning using aquaponics gardening,” Boddie said.

Boddie has expanded to Bell’s Hill Elementary in Waco ISD, teaming up with Nesmith and others. Bell’s Hill is a professional development school of the SOE where Baylor juniors and seniors do student teaching.

Because Bell's Hill science teacher Debby DeGraff participated in Nesmith’s EPA-funded summer training, she applied for and received an EPA sub-grant to bring the aquaponics project to her school. Boddie also received support from Baylor through the funds provided by the university’s annual Christmas ornament sales.

Nesmith said, “I’m a strong proponent of inquiry-based science, where students are actually doing science and looking for an answer to a question. But few educators have had these field-based experiences in their own preparation, so they might not be comfortable with doing science in the field and are typically not providing these opportunities to their own students.”

Both Nesmith and Boddie are thrilled with the teamwork that is bringing hands-on aquaponics learning to schools.
“You cannot help children build an understanding of the environment and have skills and abilities to take action if you simply talk to them in a classroom,” Nesmith said.

2018 EPA Grant Partners:

  • School of Education
  • Dept. of Environmental Sciences, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Dept. of Geosciences, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Dept. of Health, Human Performance, and Recreation, Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences
  • Baylor Center for Reservoir and Aquatic Systems Research
  • City of Waco
  • Lake Waco Wetlands

2021 Aquaponics Partners:

  • Diana Garland School of Social Work
  • School of Education
  • School of Engineering & Computer Science
  • Dept. of Environmental Sciences, College of Arts & Sciences
  • Mayborn Museum
  • Connally ISD
  • Waco ISD
  • Toliver Chapel Missionary Baptist Church
  • Mission Waco