Planting Seeds in the School System

Marta Adair: Preparing Future Science Teachers

Few things are more important than educating children. It's comforting to know, therefore, that professors teaching the teachers care about the outcome.

Professor Marta Adair teaching students
"My biggest goal in teaching is to make it be meaningful, applicable, and doable." – Marta Adair
An assistant professor of Integrative Biology, Marta Adair came to BYU after teaching biology in the public school system. She cares deeply about teaching future teachers because of the needs of the children they will teach in future classrooms. She doesn't want those children to build a dislike for science like she did when she was in high school because the facts she memorized didn't seem to connect to reality.

Instead, she wants science classrooms to be more like the disguised scientific experiences she shared with her father: Lying on the riverbank to find fish and still avoiding scaring them; Finding the way home from a hike by the trees and bushes she observed on the way in; Castrating hogs and pulling calves on the family farm to learn about reproduction.

"I ended up teaching biology because of my experiences with my dad," said Adair. "My biggest goal is to make teaching be meaningful, applicable, and doable. It's not good enough to read about it or talk about it— you must do it. When you do it, you like it more."

"My goal is to help prospective teachers reach all students, not just those who are academically inclined," said Adair. "Since only about 30 percent of all high school graduates even finish college, we have to ask, 'how do we draw in others?' It certainly isn't by reading or memorizing. It's important that science becomes a meaningful part of their everyday lives so they can be intelligent lifelong participants in their communities. Instead of focusing on vocabulary, definitions, schematics and the like, our new teachers must provide activities, experiences, and lessons that allow their students to construct their own learning."

Adair recalls her hated obligatory middle school leaf collection. But now, she teaches teachers to make this collection a springboard to teaching all the important things plants do. "I teach future teachers that photosynthesis is not just an equation, it's a process that provides us our oxygen," said Adair. "The kids bring in roots, stems, and leaves on food day and we eat. From this collection, we also extract dyes and tie-dye t-shirts. Photosynthesis therefore becomes more than a memorized equation—it becomes a process that keeps us eating, breathing, building, and living in Technicolor."

Adair believes that when students design an experiment to answer a question that does not have a prescribed outcome, real learning takes place. "We want teachers who will ask a question and provide materials that allow students to design a solution in their own ways," said Adair. "As students become more expert at problem solving they will begin asking—and answering— their own questions. The learning is internalized because the student figured out the solution. It's not just a memorization that will be quickly forgotten."