Inspiring students to do science like scientists

The Concord Consortium’s Teacher Ambassador program commemorates our 25th anniversary by recognizing 25 outstanding teachers who have included our digital inquiry resources into their STEM classrooms. We congratulate them on their innovation and creativity.

Ed Crandall, Lighthouse Community Charter School, Oakland CA

“Only by making sense of what they are seeing and doing can students truly appreciate what science is and what scientists need to do to better understand our world,” says Ed Crandall.

He brings this sense of adventure to his life and his teaching. When backpacking in Alaska and hiking in Zion National Park, the extreme beauty nearly crumpled him. Ed was equally moved when he first saw Maxwell’s equations in a physics lecture. He now laughs about “being brought to tears by math.”

He has worked in many professions over the years—nuclear engineer, software engineer, electrical contractor, and kayak instructor and guide, to name a few. But he credits a high school math teacher with turning his life around, and he always knew he wanted to help others in a similar way, if possible. After a year of volunteering at the Lighthouse Community Charter School, he joined the staff to teach science. That was 10 years ago. This year, he’ll teach in the math department.

While he worries about the desire to control learning environments for students, he is encouraged by bright voices out there, like those at Harvard’s Project Zero who are pushing for teaching that encourages student thinking. Ed has worked to make his own classroom a place where students can engage with the world through inquiry. The time his freshman class experimented with spinach leaves as part of the InSPECT project was one such example.

After students had collected CO2 data for spinach leaves, in both the light and the dark, they discussed the similarities and differences in their data. They concluded that the experiments had been conducted differently, made conjectures about possible explanations for the differences, then went on to redo the experiment. Their understanding of photosynthesis was “much deeper” than he’d ever seen.

Not only that, but their investigations expanded into additional questions. If spinach leaves that had been picked off the plant were still photosynthesizing, were they really dead? “They realized the distinction between life and death is not as cut and dried as it is usually presented in school.” His students talked excitedly about this topic and conducted experiments of their own. Ed says, “Students need to be given the opportunity (and supported through the process) of dealing with the complexity of our universe without people (usually teachers) getting in the way and sheltering them from it.”

Ed’s most inspiring classroom story involves his ninth graders high-fiving one another when their rocket finally worked after a week of hundreds of failed attempts and new ideas. He describes kindergartners dancing around as the rocket descended by parachute.

Perhaps because he is often surrounded by such youthful activity, his dream vacation is in the wilderness, “where it is quiet.”

Favorite ice cream: Baskin Robbins Chocolate Raspberry Truffle