UMW and Partners Boost Local Science Teaching

When about 70 local teachers went to summer school in June, they dug into dirt, got up close to plants and conducted science experiments.

The educators studied local ecosystems during a summer course that kicked off an 18-month project to help elementary teachers improve their ability to teach science.

University of Mary Washington professors are helping to run the grant-funded Science Inquiry in the Environment (SINE) project. UMW’s partners are the Caroline, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and Stafford school divisions and two nonprofit organizations–the Friends of the Rappahannock and the Science Museum of Virginia.

The five-day summer workshop, which included a visit to the Rappahannock River, was well received by participating educators, said Kelli M. Slunt, UMW professor and chair of chemistry.

“Several teachers told me they can’t wait until school starts in the fall so that they can use the new experiments and science knowledge they’ve learned,” Slunt said of the summer course. “I think everybody appreciated it and got a lot out of it.”

The project is funded by a $211,968 grant from the Virginia Department of Education’s Mathematics and Science Partnership.

During the 2009-10 year, a workshop at the science museum and other professional development activities are planned. The project culminates with a summer 2010 conference where participating teachers will share what they’ve learned with peers.

“K-5 teachers have to be knowledgeable about all content areas they have to cover, and science is sometimes daunting,” said Slunt. “I’m looking forward to helping teachers be more comfortable with and confident about teaching the sciences. Hopefully, we can show them that science is fun.”

The grant covers stipends for participating teachers, teaching supplies they’ll receive, and many other expenses. The SINE project is aligned with state and local standards and curricula and it must result in measurable improvement in student academic achievement in science, in keeping with the requirements of the state’s grant program as authorized by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

The other lead institutions that received grants are Longwood University, The College of William and Mary, the Southwest Virginia Public Education Foundation Inc. and the University of Virginia.

For more information, contact Kelli Slunt at kslunt@umw.edu, Venitta McCall, UMW professor of education, at vmccall@umw.edu or Eric Rhoades, supervisor of mathematics and science for Stafford County Schools, at rhoadesem@staffordschools.net.