NAU-Yuma science grant helps teachers make the grade

August 16, 2009

By hammersmith

William Roller, Yuma Sun

A federal grant for Northern Arizona University-Yuma helped local public school teachers move closer to the highly qualified standard this summer. There were 17 teachers from Yuma Elementary School District 1, Carpe Diem, Somerton and Gadsden schools who gained best practices classroom experience at NAU-Yuma’s Summer Science Strategies Institute for a week in July, said Susan Stutler, assistant professor of education.

The idea was to help teachers in grades 7 through 12 integrate science content into their classrooms, Stutler noted. Vicki Ardisana, NAU-Yuma professor of education, also trained teachers in methods of teaching science through inquiry, problem-based learning and critical thinking, Stutler noted.

“We had students involved with lots of hands-on inquiry and problem-based learning activity exploring geography, earth science and literacy. Teachers will develop from this a curriculum they will implement in classrooms all around the county.” Stutler said some teachers developed an integrated curriculum of the history and structure of the Gila River, while another group developed a unit on the issue of pesticides, whether it is positive or negative with the aim of recommending how to solve local ecological problems.

Even though the Summer Science Strategies Institute has concluded, next month they plan a kayak trip down the Colorado River for teachers, Stutler said. “They’ll take water samples, measure current flow, water depth and width. Then they will continue compiling information online and produce a report for the Arizona Board of Regents.” The board of regents obtained the $90,000 grant through the U.S. Department of Education. It was disbursed to NAU-Yuma over the past two summers, Stutler said. Arizona Western College was also a partner in the grant, where teachers also took three one-credit classes in earth science, biology and physical sciences.

These classes were aligned to Arizona Science Content Standards for grades 5 through 12. Teachers also integrated Structured English Immersion strategies to help English language learners better learn science content while they improve their English. “The feedback we got from teachers was that it was very valuable to them and the experience helped invigorate their teaching and get their students excited about science and see how much fun it is.”

Stutler said the success of the Science Institute can be attributed to actively requiring teachers to engage students in inquiry and problem solving so they enjoy learning science more and become capable of thinking at a higher level. “This is what we need because students are the problem solvers of the future. The more they practice, the better they become. This shows hands-on learning is much better than rote memorization or just reading out of a book.”

The training prepares teachers in their efforts to advance to the highly qualified standard, Stutler noted. All the teachers who participated already are certified in elementary or secondary education. But they must pass the Arizona Education Proficiency Assessment exam to become highly qualified. Teachers are scheduled to take the exam in November. Stutler says NAU-Yuma is already getting calls about another program for next summer. Although there is enthusiasm for repeating the Summer Science Strategies Institute, it will all depend upon whether the board of regents opens another round of grants.

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