Teachers from some of Missouri’s high-need schools will spend three weeks learning ways to improve their students’ science achievement from a group of MU professors and teaching assistants.
Starting today, the Physical Science Summer Institute for Middle Level Teachers will target schools with poverty levels greater than 20 percent and low MAP scores. “High-need” schools are those that meet federal guidelines for poverty and teacher quality as outlined in the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.
While the current focus of No Child Left Behind is on reading and math, beginning in 2007, states must measure students’ science achievement at least once a year.
Meera Chandrasekhar, an MU physics professor and coordinator of the institute, said MAP concerns will be addressed at the institute. “We teach content that is aligned to the Missouri frameworks for what’s appropriate for each grade level. However, the state is developing new grade level expectations that should be finished this week, which we’ll be discussing,” she said.
The Missouri Department of Higher Education identified high-need schools from districts across the state whose science teachers were eligible to participate in the institute. Chandrasekhar said that teachers from other schools also could attend if space was available. She said that there are 24 teachers participating in the institute this year, including two teachers from Oakland Junior High in Columbia, which was not designated high-need by the DHE. They will spend 15 days at MU learning ways to incorporate hands-on techniques for exploring physical science concepts in their own classrooms.
“The best thing about the institute is that it uses a completely hands-on method,” Chandrasekhar said. “There’s a lot of learning by doing, and teachers are encouraged to incorporate their prior knowledge and real-life experience.”
The MU physics department has offered summer science institutes since 1993. In 2003, the program was expanded to include both physics and chemistry. Funded by the DHE through the Improving Teacher Quality grant program, institutes are taught in a three-year cycle with different topics offered each year.
The institutes are taught collaboratively by Chandrasekhar, Bruce McClure, associate professor of biochemistry; Steven Keller, associate professor of chemistry; and Mark Volkmann, associate professor of science education.
This year the course material will include electricity, magnetism, atoms and molecules. Teachers earn three hours of college credit in physics for attending the institute, and each is given a kit containing all the supplies needed to implement activities learned at the institute in a classroom, Chandrasekhar said.
Chandrasekhar said that she has seen some anecdotal evidence that the institutes help to improve student achievement, although she said data is hard to measure because of the number of variables involved. For example, the institute focuses only on physical science concepts, while the MAP test assesses students on a variety of concepts.
“Improvement has to be a long-term process,” Chandrasekhar said. “Teachers are going to have to take classes, use the content in their classrooms and help kids learn in a variety of areas.”
Chandrasekhar said tests administered by her and colleagues to students whose teachers had participated in the institute showed a marked improvement in areas covered at the institute. “Their scores definitely improved,” she said. “And eventually that will translate into better MAP scores.”