“I used to think you had to cover every concept in the textbook,” says Bramlett, a science teacher at Tuscaloosa Magnet Middle School in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Her students would dutifully regurgitate the information on tests.
Laboratories, when she could afford them, were low-tech affairs. She taught mitosis by giving her students pipe cleaners to model chromosomes in a dividing cell. Often she just did what she calls “pencil and paper” labs, in which students plodded through problems in a workbook. “For the students it was boring. Science wasn’t one of their favorite subjects,” Bramlett says.
“It really wasn’t fun for me either,” she adds.
Then Bramlett got some training. She enrolled in the Alabama Math, Science, and Technology Initiative, an extensive, state-run teacher training program for science and math teachers aimed at boosting student performance. Bramlett took advantage of every aspect of the program: She completed a two-week workshop two summers in a row, connected with a science-teaching mentor, and began borrowing modern laboratory equipment and teaching her students how to use it. Her teaching—and her students’ learning—turned around.
Illustration: Josh Cochran