PIRATES (Preparing and Inspiring Achieving Teaching Excellence in Science Education) Research Grant

Dr. Tammy Lee, East Carolina University

Read about it in Science & Children

Thirteen Elementary Education alumni met for a week of professional development on August 1-5. This professional development is part of Dr. Tammy Lee’s research start up grant called PIRATES (Preparing and Inspiring Readiness for Achieving Teaching Excellence in Science). The grant is focused on supporting beginning teachers that were the first graduates of the Elementary Science Concentration. The first summer institute was centered on two main themes 1) to engage beginning teachers in fieldwork with naturalists and scientists to develop a more in-depth understanding of complex systems and 2) to develop and implement science units focused on a “systems thinking” approach. Dr. Lee stated that, “Elementary teachers teach about systems in science throughout K-5. We want teachers to approach teaching about systems in a more explicit manner through clearly defining the system under study.”


During the week teachers participated in field experiences with naturalists from the Museum of Natural Sciences from Raleigh. The naturalists helped teachers to find, adapt, and use natural areas (defined systems) found on elementary school campuses to teach science. Dr. Ariane Peralta, Assistant Professor of Biology, assisted teachers in fieldwork at River Park North to learn more about the system of a wetland. In the afternoons, Mrs. Bonnie Glass and Dr. Lee worked with teachers on designing “systems thinking” units. The lessons involved a variety of teaching methods such as using and developing models; field experiences, and problem based learning scenarios that focused on defined systems. Through these lessons teachers have planned for students to observe, discuss, and learn how the interactions among the parts of the system work together for the overall function of the system.” At the end of the week teachers developed a systems thinking unit on their selected system based on their grade level science standards.

Quotes from participating teachers:

“An amazing week of professional development instead of sitting and listening to a lecture, we were outdoors exploring and relating our experiences to ones we can use in our own classrooms.” Amber Ellington, 5th grade teacher Falkland Elementary, Pitt County Schools.

“The PIRATES grant provided us with field experiences that are unforgettable. This past week was full of understanding the importance of systems and seeing the bigger picture. I can’t wait to implement systems thinking in my classroom!” Ashley Barfield, Kindergarten teacher Abbotts Creek Elementary, Wake County Schools.

“This week of professional development has taught me so much about making science fun and meaningful for my classroom. I finally feel confident in taking my students outside and teaching them about the world around them!” Kayla Sager, 5th grade teacher, Angier Elementary, Harnett County Schools.