Peachtree Middle teacher earns national award
A love for science can take you many places. For some, it leads to a career spent curing illnesses. For others, it leads to a world of artistic design and innovation. For a select few, it leads straight to the moon—and beyond.
For one DeKalb County School District (DCSD) teacher, it has led to a new career spent sharing passion, spurring student growth, and earning national recognition.
Peachtree Charter Middle School teacher Brian Gardiner was recently named the recipient of the Maitland P. Simmons Memorial Award for New Teachers by the National Science Teachers Association (NTSA). Gardiner was selected for his specialized approach to teaching science as well as his enthusiasm for the discipline, and will be formally honored in St. Louis, MO in April 2019.
For Gardiner, the award is the end product of a collaborative and inspirational partnership with the NSTA. The organization—made up of more than 50,000 scientists, science teachers, professors, supervisors, administrators and industry leaders—has helped guide Gardiner as an educator.
“The NSTA is a great organization that is completely motivated in hekping science teachers,” Gardiner said. “I was lucky enough to be part of a fellowship and cohort for a whole year, and was able to present at the NSTA Conference last year in Atlanta. I wish every science teacher could go. You see so many amazing things, including the best new theories on teaching. It is very inspiring.”
So inspiring, Gardiner says, that he implemented one NSTA method in his classroom, which has yielded fantastic results.
Students are introduced to a phenomenon or problem with one driving question. The question is designed to capture student interest and provide a reason for investigation. It is then left up to students to design a method for inquiry and collect data. An argument—and ultimate solution, if found—can then be developed from that data.
Gardiner also tasks his students with providing peer reviews for one another. Like science professionals out in the field, Peachtree students in Gardiner’s class provide constructive criticism and, ultimately, provide feedback for a final draft.
“Sometimes, this takes a little more time than a traditional lab, but it falls into authentic learning,” Gardiner said. “As far as I know, it’s the most authentic way to teach science. Traditional methods are great for teaching pure knowledge—facts like parts of a mountain, layers of an atmosphere and so on. But 21st century scientists are people with scientific minds who can apply solutions to new problems.”
Gardiner always tries to tie his lessons to the outside world and maintain a focus on real-world application. This often calls for studying weather extremes outside, measuring erosion around Peachtree Charter Middle, or using measuring tools in a nearby wooded area.
No matter what, he reminds students that they are tomorrow’s leaders.
“We have a lot of fun,” Gardiner said. “I tell my sixth graders they are 10 years away from graduating college. I emphasize that we need scientists and STEM leaders—always the bigger picture.”
Education and science was not Gardiners’ first career choice. He had 15-year career in law before becoming a stay-at-home father during the recession. He found the circumstances to be the best time to make a change in career.
Growing up, Gardiner always wanted to be an astronaut. He loved going to museums and watching NOVA Science on PBS. When a part-time position opened up at Annunciation Day School in DeKalb County, he jumped at the opportunity to enter the realm of education. Two years later, he landed an official position at DCSD.
“Science has always been a passion for me. I love bringing that passion with me to school every day,” Gardiner said.
The ultimate reward for Gardiner is seeing student growth. The accomplishment of a student placing 4th in a nationwide essay contest, the look of a student’s face who finally understands a larger concept, or a student leading a particular discussion is what teaching is all about, he says.
Gardiner advises all teachers seek out new, innovative ways to teach. He also tries to keep up with emerging technologies and let a genuine enthusiasm lead the way. Gardiner, for example, tries to wear a bright blue flight suit—a souvenir from Space Camp for science teachers—on the first day of school each year.
“I just want to show students I’m excited about science,” he said. “It’s weird in a way, I guess, but it does show how enthusiastic I am about science and about teaching it.”
For more information about the NSTA, visit www.nsta.org.