With cutbacks in faculty and funding affecting area schools’ ability to offer thorough science instruction, science education faculty have stepped forward to bridge the gap.
In the Department of Teacher Education at the University of North Georgia, four assistant professors of science education are helping their students to engage local schools by guiding them in teaching inquiry-based science courses to kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms.
"Because of many factors, including the No Child Left Behind Act and teacher evaluations based on student test scores, instructional focus has shifted away from science and toward subjects such as math and language arts," said Joe Covert. "But now schools are returning to having a firm science presence due to recent changes in accountability measures in Georgia, and their teachers are out of practice in science instruction. By having our students assist these teachers with science instruction, the students gain experience in science education while providing the area schools with eager, talented science instructors three days a week."
Also assisting their UNG students in getting hands-on experience in local schools are: Dr. Paul Baldwin, who is focusing on Dawson County schools; Dr. Sanghee Choi, who is focusing on Forsyth County schools; and Dr. April Nelms, who is focusing on Lumpkin County schools. Covert is working with schools in Hall County.
All four educators recently returned from the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) conference—the top-level conference in science education—where they each presented papers detailing their current projects.
"One of the things we're focusing on is the instruction of inquiry-based science; we want students to learn the processes and nature of science by observing and asking questions, not by memorizing facts," Covert said. "Exposure to this kind of science at an early age is critical, which is why a great deal of our focus is on elementary schools."
Covert said this process follows a professional development community model being used by all the education students; the model aims to begin with early-childhood education with a two-year residency program. UNG students spend three days a week in elementary schools assisting and teaching in classrooms, and the other two days in their own classes on UNG campuses learning from their professors.
"This type of learning goes beyond science; it broadens horizons and helps students learn new topics," Choi said. "We are developing new standards for K-12 students to enact change, and we will present our findings at next year's American Educational Research Association conference."
Though the focus of the professors is on science, Covert said this initiative will go beyond science to bolster STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) instruction and learning as a whole.
"Our students are helping teachers freshen up on their STEM instruction, and through doing so they themselves are learning to be better STEM instructors," Covert said. "With new national initiatives that are creating curricula to address these deficiencies, this kind of collaborative instruction and learning will be a very useful tool for all involved."