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Students engage as teachers focus on science inquiry

By C. Brandon Chapman, College of Education

teacher-80PULLMAN, Wash. – Increased student engagement is among the results of the first year of a Washington State University-led program to improve science education in K-8 grades. Teachers met this week to assess progress and consider next steps – one of which is blogging to support their collaboration.

“One very basic, yet important, impact of this project has been that teachers in the participating schools have increased the amount of time dedicated to teaching science,” said Andy Cavagnetto, a science educator in the WSU College of Education and School of Biological Sciences.

“But perhaps the biggest success has been increased engagement among their students during science,” he said.

Comprehending the concepts

The program is funded by a $541,000 grant from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction titled Enhancing Understanding of Concepts and Practices of Science (http://sbs.wsu.edu/eucaps/projectdescriptions.html). The three-year project works with Clarkston and Pomeroy school districts, as well as the districts in southeastern Washington’s Educational Service District 123

teachers-meet-450The project uses argument-based inquiry to teach children science. The purpose is to spawn negotiation throughout the process as students generate questions, design experiments, review findings and defend results.

“We’re shaping students’ science ideas, as opposed to trying to ‘pour in knowledge,’” Cavagnetto said. “We know from cognitive science that the old approach simply doesn’t work when the goal is meaningful understanding of science concepts.”

Blogging for support

The teachers met this week to plan the next steps.

“They were able to put together detailed plans to track their progress so they can continue to meet the needs of their students,” Cavagnetto said. “Throughout the spring, teachers will be monitoring their progress in teams.”

Once they have analyzed this year’s data, which will inform their practices moving forward, the teachers will meet in the summer to kick off the project’s second year.

One practice they are adding is blogging – to help them connect to each other and to other professionals in order to work through problems and share successes. At the recent meeting, teachers were taught how to start a blog through MSPnet (http://hub.mspnet.org/).

“These teachers bring a considerable amount of expertise to science teaching, but many of them do not feel like there is enough time to dedicate to thinking about and planning their science instruction,” Cavagnetto said. “This will help them collaborate.”

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