Impact Stories

  • Annie Bercovich Myers

Spotlight on Science Teacher Cathy Bornfleth

During the pandemic, we have all been challenged with juggling many balls: how do we adapt our lives to shelter-in-place, to zoom school, and to work-from-home. No one embodies this resiliency more than beloved science teacher Cathy Bornfleth. A 20 year veteran teacher, Ms. Bornfleth collaborated with the district elementary science faculty to transform their hands-on, single-class-sized curriculum to work in a zoom environment, where each lesson is broadcast to 300+ students. And if that weren’t enough, in our new hybrid model, Cathy also teaches afternoon kindergarten to distance learners from two elementary schools two days a week and supports second grade distance learning students the other two days a week.

What skills does Science build?

Science makes you a problem solver and a risk taker. You get comfortable making mistakes. Without being free to make mistakes, we can’t make any progress. Students learn to tell me and each other that it took hundreds of unsuccessful attempts before Edison got the light bulb to work.

We have a phenomenal experiential learning science program for TK - 12th grade, how do you all work together to create a cohesive and progressive program?

Our work is based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The science team spent years collaborating with LPIE and the middle school as we transitioned to NGSS. Crosscutting concepts carry through science at all levels, as well as what students do in the general classroom in math, science, reading, and writing. We focus on concepts such as structure/function, cause/effect, patterns and systems, which are in play across curricular and scientific areas.

What’s your favorite science lesson?

My favorite lessons are the low floor, high ceiling lessons, which are accessible to all students and where kids get to figure things out for themselves. I like the lessons where I take the students outside. Anytime I can teach something in the garden, all the better! I am particularly proud of the plastic pollution awareness project I created with Mrs. Manzano (Springhill teacher) in third grade where students identify a problem and collaborate to create solutions.

What does LPIE funding from our parents and community mean to you?

Without LPIE, I wouldn’t be teaching science. But more than that, LPIE’s funding is an indicator that music, science, and art are valued by our community. I was a student here when LPIE first started. I still remember my 6th grade LPIE Art lesson on perspective.

How have you adapted Science to distance learning?

It was super important to the science team that we keep science a hands-on program. To do that, it quickly became obvious that we’d have to create and send out kits. This has been very labor intensive, but worth it. For example, my first 3rd grade kit contained 59 items, and I made and delivered 385 kits – that’s 22,715 pieces of materials that had to be counted and cut or copied and ordered and bagged. And that was just for one unit!

What are the biggest challenges during the pandemic?

Lack of opportunities for student collaboration. So much of what we do in the science lab trains students to work collaboratively. The students build understanding on each other’s thinking. I’m not able to give as many students the opportunity to teach their peers when I’m broadcasting out to hundreds of students at once. A personal challenge was overcoming being extremely uncomfortable with attention. I had to get brave fast in order to talk to so many kids at once and be broadcast into their homes with their siblings and parents.

Has distance learning taught any lessons you hope to continue when life returns "back to normal"?

Some students thrive in this environment of submitting their work digitally – making movies and getting to explain their thinking. I’d like to incorporate more opportunities for that when we return to the science lab.

How do we promote science learning at home?

Share your daily experiences as a scientist. We do at least one thing every day that involves the skills of a scientist: driving, making lists, cooking, gardening, repairs, planning, finding your keys. Be sure to name that.

Many of our children ask a lot of questions about "why" and "how" things work in the world. What's the best way to keep kids asking these great questions, even when we parents don't know the answers?

It isn’t important to know the answers! Embrace the “power of yet.” What is more important is that students get in the habit of asking questions! What do they and you observe about something? Based on that, what are some possible explanations? Flat out giving kids the answer isn’t the best thing you could do for them. If they have to depend on someone else to “know” the answer, they won’t be driven to start figuring things out for themselves, or be comfortable not knowing something YET.