Science educator Minna Turrell advocates for great content and resources to support teachers and kids in the classroom.
I was a high school science teacher for 11 years. This was before the days of #materialsmatter when the question was more often: what materials? I was expected to offer my students innovative, inspiring, effective lessons with textbooks that were published when I was in middle school.
The challenges I faced then are the same ones weighing on many teachers today: spending hours finding or developing my own content and trying my best to inspire students to learn without the resources we both deserved.
I was a good teacher, but I know I could have been a better one if wasn’t forced to spend my time searching for unvetted materials. I would have been able to harness those hours for continuous learning and building professional learning communities to implement quality content for my students.
Despite these hurdles, my experience in the classroom taught me the power of science education in students’ lives—how the world changes for them as they begin to understand and explore it and how science offers exciting possibilities for the future.
Throughout my career, I witnessed the importance of quality materials to support the kind of learning all students should be able to access. I knew, no matter what future role I held, advocating for great content and resources to support teachers and kids in the classroom would be a priority.
In 2015, the state of Michigan adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The following year, I transitioned roles to become a secondary science consultant for grades 6-12 focusing on helping teachers shift their classroom practices towards NGSS. This was an exciting time to be an educator in Michigan. The NGSS offer enormous promise for how students are learning science: explaining and exploring concepts through real-world phenomena, solving problems and developing models, and gaining knowledge and skills as they do the work of real scientists.
This was a huge mindset shift for teachers and administrators. As teachers, we had to understand that students needed to experience science for themselves. We were their guide rather than simply telling them what they should know. For administrators, they had to learn that science is not about students sitting silently in rows. Science is messy. Science is loud. Science is social. Learning science content is about participation and not about passively absorbing information from experts.
And what’s more: districts were being asked to make these shifts with few resources and little consistent coaching and support. As a longtime educator, I knew this was not a fair ask. Unless we had educators advocating for quality materials, and solid professional development to implement them well, little progress would be made and teachers would continue to hunt and piecemeal curriculum together.
I decided to take action. Through my role as a consultant, I have worked closely with Michigan teachers and school leaders to support the implementation of the NGSS and to help provide a model for what this new science learning looks like. But the struggle for resources was huge. Many materials claimed to be designed for NGSS but without an independent trustworthy source, there was no way to examine if these claims were true.
Everything changed when I discovered EdReports. I seized the opportunity to be a part of the inaugural science review team in 2018 and, together with dozens of science educators from across the country, we reviewed hundreds of pages of instructional materials and put together reports that would provide detailed evidence about NGSS alignment and usability of science programs. I finally had a tool to show teachers and administrators what a quality resource looks like. EdReports reviews meant that districts had the information necessary to make choices backed by evidence.
For the past three years, the advocacy work I’ve done has spanned seven districts in a county with more than 20,000 students and teachers. I know there is still so much work to be done, but I’m hopeful by the actions we are taking and the supports we have invested in. There are so many ways to advocate and so many roles to advocate from. As the school year begins and we harness the energy of a new year I hope my story can help inspire you to champion issues you're most passionate about and make the changes you know will make a difference for students.