ATLANTA — As a room full of families watched, Brian Williams demonstrated how easy it is to turn water to snow during the “Science Wondershop” at the Children’s Museum of Atlanta.
Williams, clinical associate professor in early childhood education and director of the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence in Georgia State University’s College of Education, teaches 30-minute workshops at the museum almost every Sunday to provide children opportunities to explore science through hands-on activities.
“I believe we can engage children and their parents in science education so that they will learn to look at science as something that is a part of their everyday lives, something they can enjoy being involved in and something that they can use in their homes and their everyday living, but also in terms of their careers,” said Williams, who has been teaching the workshops for nearly six years.
Williams relishes the opportunity to influence young minds. Some of the experiments he teaches during the workshops include how to make slime, rockets, tie-dye shirts and butter.
“We got to use lots of nice colors and feel gooey stuff, like the stuff that’s in a diaper,” said Ella Weaver, a 5-year-old from Gwinnett County, after learning about polymers by making slime.
Williams focuses his research at Georgia State on inequities in science and math education. He is “Coach in Residence” at the Kimberly Elementary School in Atlanta, a College of Education Professional Development School, where he is affectionately referred to as “Dr. Science.”
“Why is it that some children get wonderful access to engage in good science teaching and have good experiences in science? Some children get to go to the museums, they get to go on the field trips and they get to go out and explore their world, and other kids don’t,” Williams said. “And usually it’s along class lines, race lines and if you’re a citizen or you’re not a citizen.”
Williams’ research was influenced by his own struggles in science and math while growing up in New Orleans. It wasn’t until Williams rode his first roller coaster in the 11th-grade that he developed a liking for the subjects and decided he wanted to build and design amusement park rides.
“I didn’t enjoy it and I was told by many of my teachers and psychologists that I wasn’t a very good math and science student,” he said. “I don’t believe that children cannot do science and math. I believe it’s our job as teachers to figure out how to help that child learn science. And If we’re not teaching all of our children to value science than we are setting them up in some ways to be left out of a huge variety of opportunities in their future.”
Williams earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Norfolk State University, and graduate degrees from Georgia Tech and Emory University. He has worked at Georgia State for eight years, and became director of the Alonzo A. Crim Center for Urban Educational Excellence in October 2011.
He supervises the center’s JumpStart, AmeriCorps, Early College and Good Neighbor programs. He also cofounded the Atlanta division of the Beyond the Bricks Project, which teaches media literacy skills to African-American boys and helps them create campaigns to change their communities.
Williams is a 2013 faculty recipient of Georgia State’s Torch of Peace Award for demonstrating leadership and service in the promotion of intercultural relations.
“Whenever you are trying to do good work it’s nice when people acknowledge you,” he said. “I’m also very humbled because a lot of the people who nominated me for this are people that I admire.”
Jan. 23, 2013