PULLMAN – Some students “get it” during a classroom science lesson, and some don’t. Both groups would do better, said Jeana Simpson, if they would stop and think about their thinking.
Critical thinking is at the heart of Simpson’s mission to improve science lessons in the Nine Mile Falls School District, where she teaches sixth and seventh grades. Her zeal landed her the 2010 Vitt and Mary Ferrucci Distinguished Educator Award in Math, Science and Technology Education.
“It’s not enough to teach content alone,” said Simpson. “Our students need to learn such science process skills as inference and prediction, observation, and effective communication. And they need to learn about the nature of science—that it’s not a quest for the truth, it’s a quest to explain things we see or can predict.”
The Ferrucci award, given by the WSU’s College of Education, includes a paid summer sabbatical. Simpson is using her time to develop a fall science teaching workshop for kindergarten through eighth-grade faculty members at her school district northwest of Spokane.
“Jeana is doing just the kind of project I like to see from our Ferrucci fellows. It’s very practical and teacher-focused,” said Jim Williamson, her College of Education faculty mentor. “She wants to take the existing curriculum and improve it.”
Simpson is also working with colleagues to plan Science Night Out programs at three district schools, in order to help parents and the wider community understand the importance of science.
Simpson has made three week-long visits to WSU Pullman, learning about its resources. She’s intrigued by the idea of leading student field trips to visit such campus science destinations as the entomology lab, veterinary teaching lab, and animal collection at the Conner Museum.
Simpson received her B.A. in education from WSU Tri-Cities in 2002. Like many of her fellow teachers, she had no specialized science training. Unlike many of the older ones, she earned her degree at a time when teacher preparation programs were abandoning the stand-and-lecture approach in favor of inquiry-based education.
“Teachers who become familiar with science inquiry will begin to see a connection with other subjects, like math and language arts,” she said. “It’s always good to ask, ‘Why do you think you’re doing this?’ ’’
Simpson is the fourth recipient of the Ferrucci award, which is funded by a $500,000 endowment established by WSU alumnus Vitt Ferrucci (’44), who was a veterinarian, WSU trustee and longtime Puyallup school board member.
“What a wonderful way to leave an endowment,” said Williamson, who has taught WSU methods courses. “It’s ongoing, exciting and useful.”