Teachers to get ABCs of 'hands-on' science Hood College wins grant for workshop

July 06, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

Beginning elementary teachers in Carroll schools will get a crash course this fall in how to teach students about insects, magnets, rocks and minerals, and electrical circuits.

Hood College in Frederick will sponsor a one-day workshop that will feature lesson demonstrations by veteran county science instructors from the school system's award-winning "Hands-On Elementary Science Program." The program has been adopted in about 3,000 schools nationwide.

The college received a $6,500 grant last week from the Foundation for Independent Higher Education to develop the workshop for Carroll teachers. The Chicago-based foundation raises money for grants and scholarship programs for its 635 member institutions.

"The purpose of the grant is to provide beginning teachers with a model of outstanding science teaching," said Dean Wood, an education professor at Hood College. Wood applied for the grant and will coordinate the program.

A date for the workshop has not been scheduled, but it will be in the first three weeks of the 1998-1999 school year, Wood said.

Hood was selected from among 20 applicants to become one of 10 colleges nationwide to receive a Tandy Excellence in Elementary Science grant. The awards are sponsored by the Tandy Corp., a major U.S. retailer of consumer electronics.

The grants program is designed to encourage partnerships between school systems and private colleges to strengthen science education in the elementary grades.

Wood said the workshop will begin with presentations from science teachers at the kindergarten through sixth-grade levels.

New teachers will then meet with experienced teachers in small groups to discuss effective techniques for teaching the elementary science curriculum, such as developing appropriate questions for students, giving examples instead of lecturing, and stressing concepts rather than rote memorization of definitions.

In the second half of the workshop, new teachers will help plan a lesson, incorporating the strategies discussed in the groups. For their final activity, teachers will develop teaching goals for their first year in Carroll classrooms.

"One day is just a start," Wood said of the workshop. "We really need a week. What we're trying to do is get teachers up to speed so they can teach it."

The Carroll school system developed the hands-on science curriculum about 10 years ago, at the urging of Gary Dunkleberger, former assistant superintendent of instruction. The curriculum, written by Carroll elementary teachers, has no textbooks and is based on hands-on experiments and demonstrations that require live creatures and plants.

The program has been recognized by the National School

Boards Association and the U.S. Department of Education as an innovative, effective curriculum.

"Children get meaning from actually doing, rather than reading a chapter and answering questions at the end," said Michael rTC Perich, a supervisor of elementary schools.

The education philosophy at the heart of the hands-on curriculum is called "constructionist" teaching.

"That's when children explore the world around them and begin to construct their own knowledge about what that means," Perich said.

"We focus on hands-on experiences, and children get meaning from actually doing rather than reading," he said.

At the kindergarten level, for example, one science unit focuses on the transformation of a monarch caterpillar to a butterfly.

"Even though we don't teach the life cycle, the children are exposed to nature," Perich said.

In second grade, students are introduced to the concepts of sinking and floating by observing what happens when a large piece of wood and a paper clip are placed in water. As a concluding activity, the children build boats out of clay and aluminum foil, and determine which boat holds the most weight and why.

"We ask them to think about why the wood floats and the paper clip doesn't," Perich said. "Then, they start bringing in their own experiences about what it's like to float in a swimming pool. We draw on what they already know, so they can extract meaning from scientific phenomena."

Perich said he hopes that new elementary school teachers will leave the Hood College workshop with a greater sense of confidence about teaching science.

"I think the most important thing they're going to realize is that they don't have to know all the answers," Perich said.

Pub Date: 7/06/98

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