Mari Thiersch speaks passionately about accessibility in science education. She was one of the 100 trailblazers of SAMI’s first class and is currently studying science education at College of the Atlantic in Maine. Her studies have encouraged her to think deeply about how to make science accessible for all students, largely influenced by her own experiences at SAMI.
Her passion for science started in the second semester of biology with Johnny Devine. She says that she had ho-hum feelings about the material in first semester and didn’t go into second semester with great expectations. That changed when one of her friends was in her class and asked a lot of questions. Mari says, “Once I learned that I could ask questions, the whole world opened up. I realized that science was about asking questions and making observations.” Through projects like the water quality testing programs, she grew to love science because she felt like “I’m actually DOING science!”
Science at SAMI was experiential and fun. She spoke fondly of an experiment in physics where they timed all the cars coming into the park to figure out who was speeding. She says, “I’ll never forget the equations for speed and velocity because they are directly tied to an experience outside the classroom.” Science was also integrated into other classes. Humanities teachers would note when a Latin word crossed over with Latin words in science. Dance teachers would reinforce anatomy and physiology curriculum through dance. The end result was that science was more accessible for her and the students around her because it was not a one-sided experience tied only to high-level concepts in a textbook, but instead was a balanced approach that incorporated experiential labs and other disciplines. No matter your post high plan, the attitude was that science was for all students.
As an educator, she is excited to provide the same experience for her students. She believes that accessibility comes from taking science out of an ivory tower and making it part of everyday life. Balance is about leaning into the paradox and tensions that develop: doing science vs. content in the textbook or artistic process vs. scientific process. Instead of asking how things are different, ask how they are similar. It’s finding where the two ideas or disciplines intersect and then pursuing a balanced way of thinking about them.
That approach requires that teachers decode terms for students so that they can understand the underlying ideas and concepts. She notes that sometimes educators mistakenly assume that we need to simplify out complexity so that students will understand. She says, “You have to show students the competing interests in detail and be explicit about the tensions. Most scenarios are both/and, not either/or. Right now I’m working with students in a climate change class. There are a lot of interests involved and it’s important to think about win/win scenarios. To show students that two things can be simultaneously true and that you have to deal with that complexity.”
Mari is excited to come to SAMI this January to help with a mini-term class called Scienceology. She’ll finish up her teaching program in June and then hopes to find a job at one of the Elements of Education Partner Schools. Mari says, “I’m excited to apply what I learned at SAMI by making science accessible and fun for all students and showing them how to integrate science into all parts of their lives.”