Teachers get schooled on promoting science in classrooms

Monday, July 14, 2008 | 7:20 p.m. CDT; updated 1:37 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — The problem: too few students studying biology.

Part of a solution? A week-long summer institute at MU to train high school science teachers in an effort to increase student interest.

A discussion Monday, led by Columbia Police Department diversity trainer and former MU professor Aaron Thompson, was the start to the institute for teachers involved in the Maps in Medicine program. The program aims to increase student interest in and understanding of basic biology and human health in high school classrooms. The program, funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is based at MU and is a collaborative effort with high school teachers in Columbia Public Schools, Normandy School District and Parkway School District.

Maps in Medicine co-director Marcelle Siegel said the program could help curb an “underachievement problem” in high school science and better prepare students for college-level science work.

“One of the major growing areas in jobs is in the tech and science industry, and there aren’t enough people to fill those jobs right now in the country,” Siegel said. “There’s also a gap in science — minority groups are very underrepresented in the field.”

In 2006, the National Academies issued a report that called for major national investments in K-12 science, education of science and math teachers and for basic research funding. The report said that the National Academies saw waning leadership in science and technology.

Maps in Medicine is a five-year program that just completed its first year, which was based around planning and developing specific curriculum with the help of scientists, teachers and doctors.

“We’re developing cutting-edge modules for high school teachers to use in the classroom,” Siegel said.

The first module developed is called “Mapping Health.” The curricula will be taught through 2009 and focuses on how viruses work and how infectious diseases spread.

“We want to teach students about cutting-edge science and modern science,” Siegel said. “Science affects you and a lot of the decisions you make.”

There are 10 teachers involved with the program this year, but Siegel said she hopes to expand in the future.

“We’re looking for more teacher partners,” she said. “We started out small this year.”

Teachers in the program help develop the curricula and better their own understanding of the content, Siegel said. They also receive graduate credit and a stipend for their work.

Thompson’s discussion focused mostly on a route to student success and the importance of diversity in the classroom. He said there are four pillars of success: collaborative involvement from the student, from his or her family, from the community and from the school.

“We need to recognize what we’re not doing as much as what we are doing,” Thompson said. “We need to create a school climate in which students feel welcomed, respected, wanted and comfortable.”

Thompson said students can find success if they’re actively involved, know how to utilize resources, interact socially and can self-reflect. But students need the help of their teachers to engage in finding success, Thompson said. He said teachers should be learning students’ names and specific things about them, asking open-ended questions to initiate discussion and garner responses from diverse perspectives. Thompson focused heavily on diversity in the classroom as a route to success.

“Teach with passion and a respect for diversity,” he said to the teachers. “We have more similarities than differences. How often do we spend trying to find those out?”

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