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Teaching totes bring science to life for students

Dr. Julie Glenn, Susan Brantley and Dr. Alyssa Myers, all three lecturers of biology at UNG, are making science teaching totes to make science accessible for elementary and middle school children.

Hissing cockroaches tend to catch the attention of teacher Scarlett Mitchell's second-graders at Colham Ferry Elementary School in Watkinsville, Georgia. Demonstrations with those insects give Susan Brantley, a University of North Georgia (UNG) lecturer of biology, an opportunity to hook the youngsters on science.

"We just love when she comes," Mitchell said. "The students come in with one view of what a scientist is. She gives them a view of the variety of fields they can enter."

Those visits by Brantley, an entomologist, are part of efforts by Brantley and two other UNG biology faculty members to make science more accessible for elementary and middle school children in Oconee County.

Toward that goal, they constructed several science teaching totes filled with different items to pique children's interest, with the initial money coming out of their own pockets. Then they received a Presidential Innovation Incentive Award from UNG President Dr. Bonita C. Jacobs.

That infusion of $4,996 allowed Brantley to make more totes for teachers and other organizations serving elementary and middle school children to check out. The materials inside help teachers meet the Georgia Science Standards for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Brantley, a lecturer of biology at UNG, has worked alongside Dr. Julie Glenn and Dr. Alyssa Myers, both lecturers of biology at UNG, on the project.

The group will have seven totes: animal adaptations, bug box, coastal connections, criminal detectives, here's to your health, pollution problems, and science rocks. Groups may check out the totes for up to two weeks so teachers or other group leaders don't have to go over everything in a day. To check out a box or schedule a visit by a UNG faculty member with a tote, email  

Brantley has been a popular visitor to elementary schools in Oconee County with her boxes of insects, activities that show insects' life cycles, and blood pressure cuffs used before and after jumping jacks. The totes are a passion for her.

"It feels like I'm working on my dream," Brantley said. "I hope it becomes a really big connection with our community."

Brantley said Dr. Joel Aquino, a part-time UNG faculty member in the Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis and Gainesville City School System teacher, has suggested practical ways teachers can use the totes.

Myers said the UNG faculty members have enlisted their students to help put together the totes. Brantley said these UNG students gain the benefit of finding different ways to teach subjects.

"Our hope is it will help our UNG students to learn more deeply," Brantley said.

Glenn is a Girl Scout troop leader and knows firsthand how the totes can aid leaders with the many badges their Scouts may pursue.

"Finding resources to make the badges interesting is very difficult," Glenn said. "Anything that saves a troop leader time but keeps the girls engaged is a win-win."

One goal of the totes is to help kids see the big picture of science.

"If we can instill that in the elementary students, it will help them later in life," Myers said.

Camille Slaten teaches 4-year-olds at Mars Hill Preschool Academy in Watkinsville, Georgia. She said Brantley's totes and presentation brought the material to life.

"It hopefully sparks some interest and makes it seem a little more real. We're not just drawing pictures of bugs. This is something interesting they can learn more about," Slaten said. "Susan's presentation took something black and white and made it color for them."

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