Katherine Gregory, a fourth grade teacher from William Perry Elementary School in Waynesboro, Virginia, walked into the Elementary Science Institute (ESI) at Virginia Commonwealth University this week unsure of what was before her.
Last year, she was in the control group for VISTA’s research component. As part of the research and observation, she was videotaped throughout the school year during her science lessons (at that time, she had not yet received VISTA training, which made her a little nervous). This year, however, she is receiving VISTA instruction through ESI, and in the four days since the institute has started, Katherine reports that she has already gained a new perspective for teaching science!
“I always thought teaching science was difficult," Katherine said. "This week’s instruction helped me to see that you can do so much with so little."
"I tend to over-think planning for materials and investigations because we don’t always have the materials in the classroom that we believe we need, but the reality is that even cardboard boxes, homemade dough and skewers are materials that we can use to teach science.”
“I think teachers believe that they are supposed to teach science implicitly. Just hearing about how I can change my instruction by tweaking a few words and fully revealing the meaning of the concepts has helped me so much. I can’t wait to go back and teach this way in my classroom.”
Katherine has reported that participants have already gained a better understanding for teaching the nature of science explicitly through a variety of activities and discussions during this week’s ESI lessons.
In addition to Katherine, over 30 school teachers from the areas surrounding Virginia Commonwealth University are participating in VISTA's four-week professional development institute in order to augment their teaching strategies with more hands-on, inquiry driven, problem-based learning that incorporates nature of science tenants.
Teachers from the following area schools are attending the VISTA ESI program at VCU:
· Bowling Green Elementary and Caroline Middle in Caroline County
· Clover Hill Elementary, Spring Run Elementary, and Bellwood Elementary in Chesterfield County
· Cool Spring Elementary and Kersey Creek Elementary in Hanover County
· Colonial Trail Elementary, Glen Lea Elementary, Nuckols Farm Elementary, Kaechele Elementary, and Dumbarton in Henrico County
· Jouett Elementary and Moss-Nuckols Elementary in Louisa County
· James H Blackwell Elementary and George Mason Elementary in Richmond City
· William Perry Elementary and Westwood Hills Elementary in Waynesboro City
The teachers have already learned about problem-based learning (PBL) by delving into various scientific scenarios involving marine systems (which is the theme of this year's institute). Next, the teachers will begin using the strategies they learned to develop their PBL scenarios for use during a two week summer camp for area students. During the last week of camp, teachers will write PBL units to take back to their schools and use with their students in the fall.
“It’s great that VISTA teaches us how to use these strategies by immersing us in them!" Katherine exclaimed. "VISTA is not just a fantastic opportunity for teachers to gain something they can take back to the classroom and use immediately, but also a win for the students of Virginia who benefit from our experiences.”