Washington, High school science
For the last eight years, Britta Culbertson has taught ninth and tenth grade science and visual arts at The Center School in Seattle, Washington. Prior to that she taught tenth-grade Biology in Santa Fe, New Mexico for two years. The Center School is a small, arts-integrated public high school where the arts are incorporated in every subject area. Because of her unique dual endorsement in science and art, Culbertson played a major role in facilitating arts integration at the school. Culbertson also worked with her colleagues in the science department to create a unique, two-year looping ninth and tenth-grade science curriculum that incorporates Biology, Physical Science, Earth and Space Science, and Chemistry. She helped create district-wide alignment of science curriculum and served on the science textbook adoption committee for Seattle Public Schools. Culbertson also participated in the Professional Teachers of Science group that created common, district-wide science assessments.
In addition to the science classes Culbertson designed and teaches, she also developed the drawing and painting curriculum at The Center School. While she encourages teachers at the school to integrate arts into their core curricula, she integrates science into her art classes as well. It is not a rare occurrence to see students drawing the skeleton hanging in Culbertson’s art room or to see her students peering through microscopes as they create Japanese-style woodblock prints of cells and flower parts.
Culbertson received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Art Studio and a Master of Arts in Secondary Education from the University of New Mexico. Before becoming a teacher, Culbertson worked with a limnologist at the Konza Prairie in Kansas, studied the external parasites on lizards and snakes in the desert near Carlsbad Caverns, worked at a large commercial greenhouse in Kansas, and was a Peace Corps Agroforestry Volunteer in Kenya from 1999-2001.
Culbertson strives to integrate technology into her classroom. In 2010, she and some of her students collaborated with the president of Green-Eye Visualization (GEV) on the development of an award-winning, educational iPad app called “Powers of Minus Ten”. GEV received funding for this project through a National Science Foundation grant. Through this relationship, students were exposed to a career that combines art with science and technology while at the same time giving feedback on the design of the app and learning from its content. Because of the success of this project, Culbertson and her colleagues applied for a Mobile Technology Grant and were awarded 15 iPads to use in their classrooms.
Culbertson feels strongly that a rich arts education supports students in developing critical thinking and problem solving skills that are necessary in any field of science. “Artists and scientists share some identical habits of mind. They must observe the natural world, articulate a vision, design a solution to solve a problem, communicate, respond, and reflect. Most importantly, creating art helps students learn to persevere through challenging tasks. Arts integration in the science classroom can help students visualize complex topics and create a personal connection with difficult material.”
Britta enjoys outdoor activities like rock climbing, mountaineering, and hiking and is also an avid traveler and artist. For several years, she took students to the climbing gym in Seattle to share her love of climbing and to expose students to a sport that is hard to access. In addition to her Peace Corps service in Kenya, Britta has travelled extensively in Turkey, Egypt, Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador, China, India, and Indonesia. For two summers, she travelled with students to Costa Rica to study Tropical Ecology. In 2010, she taught 6-8 grade in a government school in New Delhi, India as a participant in the India Summer Teacher Program sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, U.S. Department of State. She was also selected by the Toyota International Teachers Program to travel to the Galapagos Islands in 2008.
Britta Culbertson is serving her Fellowship at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Education.