Teachers seek inspiration at summer science institute

Though some teachers take the summer off, many hit the books themselves to discover ways to inspire and educate their students. In June, one such group of motivated elementary school teachers took part in a three-week, hands-on science course presented at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio. The course, called the Science by Inquiry Institute, was funded by a grant from the Ohio Department of Higher Education through the Improving Teacher Quality program. The aim was to teach basic science content aligned with the new Ohio Science Standards. To find out more, we asked Loretta W. Harvey, STEMM coordinator in the Department of Teacher Education at Shawnee State, and Dr. David Todt, professor of natural science at the university and course coordinator and instructor of record for the institute, to tell us more:

Image of Loretta Harvey and David Todt
We spoke with Loretta W. Harvey and Dr. David Todt about the Science by Inquiry Institute.

Q: What was the goal of the institute? Was STEM education a part of it?

David Todt: The goal of the institute was to use an inquiry-based approach to teach basic science concepts. Mathematics was integrated into the course.

Q: How were the participating teachers chosen? Did they incur any expenses?

DT: Eighteen participants were selected from south-central Ohio schools in Scioto, Adams, Pike and Lawrence counties. The applicants had to meet the requirement of being a preK-8 teacher in the region and then were selected on a first-come, first-served basis. There were only minimal incidental costs to the participants (travel and lunch).

Image of a dendrochronology investigation
Participants had the opportunity to do a dendrochronology investigation on determining the age of trees.

Q: What subjects were featured, and who taught them?

Loretta Harvey: The sessions focused on physical science, life science and earth and space science. All instructors were full-time faculty at Shawnee State and all have Ph.Ds. Each instructor taught for one week. During Week 1 (physical science), Dave Todt focused on environmental science. In Week 2 (life science), D. Robert Deal discussed plant pathology. And, in Week 3 (earth and space science), Tim Hamilton, an astrophysicist, was the presenter.

Q: How long were the class days?

LH: Participants met 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday with a lunch break.

Q: How was the material presented? What kinds of activities were involved?

DT: Most of the material was presented in an inquiry/discovery format with lots of hands-on activities. (An attached syllabus lists the activities. The syllabus was modified in minor ways during the institute with some changes in the order of events and the grading scheme.)

Q: What kind of feedback have you received from participants?

DT: At the close of the institute, the feedback from the participants was very positive. The teachers commented that they overcame some science “fears” and had fun learning.

Image of participants looking at geology
A group of participants snapped photos while looking at local geology.

Q: Was this the first such program at Shawnee State? Will there be another?

DT: This is the first time Shawnee State has received an Improving Teacher Quality grant. A number of years ago, we received teacher improvement grants when the program was referred to as the Eisenhower Program for Math and Science. We plan to submit a proposal for continuing the program next year.

Q: If another institute is funded, who may register for it? Who could provide more information?

DT: If we are funded for a second year, it will be offered in June 2017. Any preK-8 classroom teacher may apply and should contact me at 740-351-3175 (office); 740-821-1124 (cell); or via email at [email protected].

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