Helping My Garden Vegetables, and My Students, Bloom Where They Are Planted

This grant-funded garden will not just be for education; it will also help feed my students, most of whom come from low-income families.

From NIST intern to science teacher

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Published Aug. 30, 2023, on the NIST website.


The hands-on experiments the researchers walked us through were so valuable. An air quality researcher showed us how to make our own air purifiers with a vent, a fan, and duct tape. I will be doing this hands-on project with my students when we learn about air quality and the environment—particularly relevant after the air quality challenges parts of the country have experienced this summer.

We learned about how crystals are aligned and how this contributes to rock formation. This will help me to teach these concepts in the upcoming school year.

I have amenities like a classroom pantry where students can take whatever they need—whether that be a toothbrush or a snack—so they can bring their full attention to my class. I also have a “calm down corner” for kids who are simply having a rough day and need to decompress.

We also learned about NIST’s standard reference peanut butter—and even came up with our own recipe. This was not only fun, but it’s also going to help me frame the standards I have for my students when they come back to school, in terms of the expectations I have for them in the classroom. Just like NIST creates all sorts of standards, I have standards in my own class.

One way I’m doing this is with hands-on science instruction in my middle school classroom in Jackson, Mississippi. This school year, my eighth grade students and I will build a garden to explore scientific concepts, including genetics. We’ll cross-pollinate plants, and the students will try to predict what characteristics the offspring plants might have, based on their knowledge of genetics.

Middle school is the perfect time to plant the seed for a child to grow a lifelong love of science. That’s why I love being a middle school teacher.

I soon realized that I loved research, but I didn’t want to spend my life in a lab. I tried nursing school, but ultimately ended up as a science teacher.

As a teacher, I encourage my students to pursue growth, and I want to make sure I’m growing in my career, too.

I am excited about the garden my students will plant this year. My middle schoolers are blooming where they are planted, despite the challenges they sometimes face outside of school. I am grateful for the opportunity to make science even more fascinating for them this school year.

I took two weeks out of my summer break to learn how to be a better science teacher at the NIST Summer Institute. It’s sort of like summer school for middle school science teachers (except we’re choosing to be there, and it’s a lot of fun).

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I’m also constantly trying to make sure I account for things outside of my classroom that may be affecting a student’s ability to learn and do what I can to address them. For example, a student who may seem uninterested in class might be simply exhausted from taking care of their siblings or experiencing food insecurity at home.

The NIST Summer Institute was an excellent program and really builds a bridge between NIST and educators in the classroom. I’m so excited to get back into my classroom and incorporate everything I learned in this program!

Teaching the whole child

Published: Thursday, October 19, 2023 – 12:03

As a teacher in a school where students experience poverty, I do my best to make sure my students can leave problems at the door when they enter my classroom—and maybe imagine an exciting future career in science.

The researchers also agreed to do video calls with my class this year, so my students will learn firsthand from them.

Kandice Taylor, in safety glasses, laughs as she pours liquids into a glass flask that is overflowing with foam.
Kandice Taylor works on an experiment during the NIST Summer Institute, a summer program for middle school teachers. Credit: B. Hayes/NIST

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My students are definitely still kids, but they’re at a developmental period in their lives where they’re growing and coming into their own. They’re developing their own attitudes and opinions—something you may relate to if you have a middle schooler in your life!


Helping My Garden Vegetables, and My Students, Bloom Where They Are Planted

Getting kids excited about science