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Elementary School Teachers Learn how to Teach Hands-On Science at Summer Institute

Elementary School Teachers Learn how to Teach Hands-On Science at Summer Institute

This summer, local elementary teachers will have an opportunity to help shape the future of science education across Virginia. In June and July, 30 area elementary teachers will gather at George Mason University (GMU) to participate in a four-week professional development institute designed to shift science instruction from the traditional teacher-led, lecture-driven classroom to a hands-on, problem-based learning environment.

Since 2011 the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) has conducted Elementary Science Institutes, which are held at four sites across the state, to encourage students and teachers to work as scientific investigators and use innovative, critical thinking to help solve society’s most complex issues.

The institutes begin by teaching educators how to present a specific problem to students and by developing a scenario to engage students in a process to solve it.

The institutes also include a two-week embedded camp for students with high needs from local schools. The camp allows the VISTA-trained teachers to experience working with real students on timely and engaging issues such as how to create a more energy independent Virginia, build a rocket, or clean up a local river.

This year, teachers and students will explore marine ecosystems during the summer camp.

“Our Elementary Science Institutes not only engage high needs students in hands-on scientific discovery, they also equip teachers with the knowledge and skills to return to their schools and reform the way science is taught throughout Virginia,” said VISTA Principal Investigator Dr. Donna Sterling.

The institutes have already served more than 250 teachers in total. This summer, they will host over 130 teachers. In addition to GMU, the summer institutes occur at Virginia Commonwealth University, the College of William & Mary, and Virginia Tech. VISTA exists as a collaboration between the aforementioned schools, as well as the University of Virginia and James Madison University. Oregon State University directs the independent evaluation of the VISTA program.  


Teachers from the following area schools will attend the camp at GMU:

• Boyce Elementary; Clarke County

• A.G. Richardson Elementary; Culpeper County

• Forest Edge, Hutchison, Keene Mill, Riverside, and Willow Springs elementary schools; Fairfax County

• Coles and Elizabeth Vaughn elementary schools, Parkside Middle; Prince William County

• Parkside Elementary; Spotsylvania County

• Rockhill and Rocky Run elementary schools; Stafford County

• C.M. Bradley Elementary; Fauquier County

• Peter Muhlenburg and North Fork middle schools; Shenandoah County

In addition to the Elementary Science Institutes, VISTA provides other K-12 science professional development activities, including its two Secondary Teacher Program teaching methods courses, the New Science Coordinator Academy, and the Science Education Faculty Academy. VISTA also offers ongoing support to its participant teachers via its coaching program.

So far, VISTA participants have influenced more than 625,000 K-12 students statewide. Over 350 teachers from more than 125 schools representing 80+ Virginia school districts have received VISTA’s professional development.

VISTA is funded by a five-year, $34 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, which includes a $5.7 million private sector matching requirement.


The contents of this document were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Investing in Innovation (i3) Program. However, those contents do not necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government

CONTACT: Lauren Wright,, 703 993-5396, 703 447-7106

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