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National Science Foundation awards grant to MU's QuEST program

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 | 4:42 p.m. CDT; updated 2:33 p.m. CDT, Thursday, August 29, 2013

COLUMBIA — The National Science Foundation has awarded funding to an MU program that supports improving science education in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The National Science Foundation will give Quality Elementary Science Teaching, known as QuEST, $2.6 million in the next four years, said Deborah Hanuscin, the MU associate professor of science education and physics who started the program five years ago.

The professional development program gives teachers hands-on ways to demonstrate scientific ideas to K-6 students. Participating teachers attended a summer workshop at MU.

"Attending a workshop without putting what you learn into practice is like taking driver's ed without ever getting behind the wheel," Hanuscin said. "QuEST helps teachers put what they learn into practice."

Public school districts in Columbia, Independence, St. Louis, Hannibal, Hallsville and Hazelwood, as well as the Archdiocese of St. Louis, have worked with QuEST in the past five years, Hanuscin said. The program is recruiting districts.

The yearlong program includes a two-week workshop during the summer. Professionals who run the program also meet with participants in several Saturday sessions throughout the year.

Hanuscin began the project with Delinda van Garderen, MU associate professor of special education.

"(Hanuscin) ... wanted me to provide teaching strategies because of my special education background," van Garderen said. She said the program gives teachers the tools to teach science to all learners, including those with disabilities.

From 2009 until this past summer, the project was funded through the Missouri Department of Higher Education's Improving Teacher Quality Grant program. Hanuscin and van Garderen are happy to get the financial support of the National Science Foundation.

"I became a professor because I wanted to make a difference in elementary science education," Hanuscin said. "This grant will allow me to do that work."

Mike Szydlowski, science coordinator for Columbia Public Schools, said the program has excited the teachers and caused them to want to teach more science. "It's true real-world learning."

Szydlowski, who has seen the program in action, called the collaboration among its participants "a rich experience." The rigorous teaching nature of the program keeps students more engaged in learning, he said.

"Students benefit from the QuEST program because when teachers are excited, students are excited," Szydlowski said. "This program is a win-win."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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