Visiting Scientist Brings Research and Field Science into Santa Cruz County Classrooms

County Superintendent of Schools Michael Watkins is pleased to announce the arrival of visiting scientist, Dr. Bruce MacFadden, to the County Office of Education. Distinguished Professor and Curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, Bruce has dedicated his sabbatical year to bringing research and field science into Santa Cruz County classrooms.

educators in grassy field in orange vestsDuring his monthly visits, Bruce will bring sample lessons into classrooms, share research and best practices with science faculty in the county and confer with local scientists at UCSC and San Jose State University. Principal Investigator of GABIRET, the Great American Biotic Interchange: Research Experiences for Teachers, Bruce has written multiple National Science Foundation grants to offer professional development for science teachers with several goals: 1) to provide scientific content to be translated into the classroom, 2) offer authentic field experiences for teachers with scientists, and 3) expand the opportunities for educators and scientists to collaborate.

Over the last four summers, grants from the NSF have sent 25 local educators to work alongside paleontologists excavating fossils from the expanded shores of the Panama Canal. In so doing, teachers have authentic research experiences while learning about biodiversity, the ancient tropical rainforests, and paleontology, biology, and earth science. Teacher participants have gone on to present papers at the International Teacher-Scientist Partnership Conference including , “Reconstructing a Giant: Teacher-Scientist Collaboration Using 3D Technology” and “Promoting Student Inquiry through Strategic Teacher-Scientist Partnerships.” Superintendent Watkins is in full support of these joint learning ventures as components of science education, a priority for county students as they prepare for 21st century careers.

According to Jason Tovani, a local educator who attended the second and third years’ trip to Panama, “Bruce is a visionary scientist with his eye on education as a means for effecting public understanding of major themes in science, like evolution and climate change. He empowers teachers with experiences and opportunities that make them better at what they do.” Another teacher participant from PVUSD, Rob Hoffman reports, “What I appreciate and admire most about Bruce are his efforts to help scientists communicate their research to the public and his outreach in connecting scientists to K-12 classrooms. In the world of academics, Bruce is innovative and rare in that he values reaching out to K-12 teachers to inspire them by providing opportunities for teachers to have authentic science experiences in the field. His choosing to take his sabbatical, not at a university, but at the county office of education is testament of his perspective and passion.”

Dr. MacFadden can be reached at