A month ago, over 100 elementary school teachers entered our Elementary Science Institutes (ESI) curious about what to expect from VISTA. “What does VISTA mean?” “What will VISTA expect?” “I thought I already taught hands-on science.” These were among the many comments and questions heard throughout the halls at each of VISTA’s four ESI sites across the state.
It has been amazing how much the teachers have learned about teaching, and themselves, in just a few weeks.
Ruth Carter from Cool Spring Elementary School in Hanover County was impressed with her experiences at VISTA’s Virginia Commonwealth University site. Right from the beginning she realized that she was going to learn a lot about best practices in science education, including the nature of science (NOS), the importance of discourse, how to conduct hands-on problem-based learning, and how to incorporate scientific inquiry into her lesson plans.
“During an inquiry lesson at the end of the first week, it started to click and I felt like, maybe I can do this!” Carter exclaimed. “Then we started planning for camp and we did the walk-through of all the lessons we would teach the student campers for the next two weeks. And I said, ‘Look what we have done in just our first week. The students will be so excited when they arrive!’”
The first week at ESI began with teaching educators how they would present a specific problem to students and helping the educators develop a scenario to engage students in a process to solve the problem. One such hands-on learning exercise was called the ‘leaf disk lab’. The interactive experiment allowed the student scientists, who would soon arrive at the summer camp, to really get their hands dirty.
“Lessons like the leaf disk lab will take my students’ level of science understanding and their confidence to new heights, elevating their learning and improving their knowledge across all curriculum areas!” Carter said.
Carter’s professional development experience with VISTA will ended last week after four weeks of intensive training, but already she can see that it will make a large impact on her teaching.
“I'm confident that I can take the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from ESI back to my school to make my class meetings more meaningful.”
Our hope is that Carter’s experience, like that of all of our ESI teachers, is a springboard for her students’ love of science and a call to action for fellow teachers across the state to enrich themselves and their pupils through active, hands-on learning.