The Art of Teaching Science

The Art of Teaching Science

Why would overworked, stressed-out elementary- and middle-school science teachers sign on for 160…

Georgia (Jul 17, 2009)

Why would overworked, stressed-out elementary- and middle-school science teachers sign on for 160 extra hours of classroom instruction? Just ask Kennesaw State professors Tom Brown and Greg Rushton.
 
    With a $600,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Education, Brown and Rushton are helping physical science and other science teachers better understand complex concepts such as physical forces, chemical reactions and geological changes so they can do a better job of educating Georgia students. So far, their venture, the Northwest Georgia Science Education Partnership, launched in the summer of 2007, has trained 120 science teachers from five northwest Georgia school systems.
 
    The result: The partnership wrapped up its first term — 160 hours of workshops and training in science concepts, classroom techniques and skills to assess what students learned — in February with an astounding 93 percent retention rate. And thanks to a fresh $830,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Education, the program will continue this summer through 2011, training another 150 teachers – including sixth-grade science teachers and educators from two other counties.
 
    “Two years and 160 hours of professional development is a long time,” said Brown, an associate professor of elementary science education at KSU and project co-director. “The real measure of success was the overwhelmingly favorable feedback from our teachers, and that so many of them stayed with it through the whole project.”
 
    The novel program fits with the College of Science and Mathematics’ efforts to improve education for science and mathematics teachers. KSU is working to become one of the nation’s top producers of teachers in the fields of math and science.
 
    “What [Brown and Rushton] are doing is probably the most effective way, short-term, to impact science and math teaching,” said Laurence Peterson, dean of the College of Science and Mathematics. “The program focuses on giving educators who are interested in upgrading their skills in the classroom an inquiry-based approach that is very effective.”
 
Brown and Rushton, an assistant chemistry professor and director of KSU’s MAT (Master of Arts in Teaching Secondary Science) program, came up with the partnership idea in response to the increasing demand for science proficiency in public schools.
 
    Led by KSU, it identifies school districts where the need for improved science proficiency is greatest and in content areas — such as the physical sciences — where teachers are least confident. Georgia Highlands College and Georgia Tech have partnered with KSU, along with three educational technology centers and two nonprofit educational organizations.
 
    “Teachers were having difficulty, not because they weren’t competent, but because they were being asked to teach something out of their expertise,” Rushton said. “The state curriculum has changed. Before, you were asked to teach a mile wide and an inch deep. Now the content has been narrowed down to a list of several standards in each grade level, and we’re asked to teach them very deeply.”
 
    Through hands-on activities like hot-air balloon experiments and constructing molecular models, educators learn a more inquiry-based approach to teaching under pedagogy experts like KSU doctoral student Sally Creel. She is the elementary science supervisor for Cobb County Schools and a former classroom teacher.
 
     “We illustrate interactive teaching techniques, so the format is very engaging for teachers,” Creel said. “We don’t want the teachers to just be the knowledge-giver in the classroom, but a facilitator of learning. That approach gets the kids more engaged because they have to do more of the work.”
 
    After its first two years, the Northwest Georgia Science Education Partnership is already delivering tangible results. Fifty-three percent of participants showed substantial gains on a key subject-matter assessment test for science teachers, and 62 percent of their students had higher passing rates on the CRCT (Criterion Reference Competency Test) than their school district’s average.
 
    But what cannot be measured is the lasting effect the project has on the educators themselves. Last year, KSU’s Science Olympiad, an annual science competition, hosted 36 teams from Georgia elementary schools. This year 45 teams competed, most of which were run by the teachers that completed the 160-hour program.
 
“Potentially, the partnership can have an impact on a lot of people,” Brown said. “But the key is to impact that teacher. If you don’t impact the teachers and support them, they can’t take that back to their school.”

 

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

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