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UNG gets state grant to improve science education in schools

Two in-service teachers learn about physical science by conducting a chemistry experiment recently at the University of North Georgia. Under a grant from the state Department of Education, UNG plans to provide 180 hours of professional development in science education to a group of in-service teachers from Hall and Lumpkin counties.

Through a state Department of Education grant, the University of North Georgia (UNG) will partner with area schools to increase elementary students' science achievement by strengthening their teachers' content knowledge and teaching skills.

The grant, awarded through the federal Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) program, funds $138,483 this year and could fund $132,196 next year, pending performance and availability of funds, for a project involving UNG, Hall County Schools, Lumpkin County Schools, the Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

Improving college readiness via K-12 partnerships is a key aspect of UNG's Complete College Georgia plan, a statewide initiative to increase the percentage of the population with some level of college completion to meet projected workforce needs. Supporting education and economic development across the region is an important responsibility for a large public university, said UNG President Bonita Jacobs.

"We are excited to develop opportunities like the Mathematics and Science Partnership, which trains educators in STEM fields and could dramatically increase the educational attainment of students," Jacobs said. "Our university covers some 30 counties, and, through the Regional Education & Economic Development, or REED, initiative we launched last year, we are engaging this region in a much more comprehensive way than ever before, by partnering with our communities to address the needs of the region."

The MSP program encourages state agencies, universities and schools to forge partnerships to increase academic achievement by improving teacher knowledge. Georgia was allocated $6,386,018 in MSP funds and received 28 project requests totaling more than $7 million.

Physics teachers
Two physics teachers conduct an experiment in motion and

"The ultimate goal is to get science back into the elementary classroom because it better prepares our students to be innovative, creative and critical thinkers for life," said Dr. April Nelms, assistant professor of science education at UNG and project director. "Children are born with natural curiosity, but during the education process, that curiosity can be stifled. Science and math are content areas that foster innovation and curiosity and, given the right instruction, children's curiosity can grow."

Research shows it takes content knowledge, pedagogy and experience to increase teachers' effectiveness, Nelms said, which is reflected in the science education courses in UNG's College of Education and the professional development sessions offered in the MSP project.

"Science has never been a favorite subject to teach in the elementary grades. Science sounds complicated and looks difficult," said Dr. Sanghee Choi, assistant professor of science education at UNG. "We aim to help teachers expand their scientific knowledge and skills through hands-on activities that align with the Georgia Performance Standards so teachers have a better understanding of how to use the standards to teach science in elementary classrooms."

During the two-year project, Nelms and Choi from UNG's College of Education and Dr. Mark Spraker, a professor of physics in the College of Science and Mathematics, will provide 180 hours of instruction to 30 elementary school teachers from Hall and Lumpkin counties. Specific subject areas will be based on the needs of the participants, who must complete state-provided assessments before, during and after the program.

"Part of the program also expects the participants return to present what they have learned to the faculties of their schools, thereby multiplying the effectiveness of the program," Spraker said. "I believe that we will have the chance to enhance the educational experience of the children in Hall and Lumpkin by providing a unique and innovative training experience to teachers."

The grant also funds technology to provide online content accessible by teachers unable to participate.

"We look forward to working closely with UNG in developing world-class science instruction for our boys and girls," said Hall County Schools Superintendent Will Schofield. "This is yet another example of the unique and valuable partnership we enjoy with our colleagues at the University of North Georgia."

The MSP project is another step in the on-going partnership UNG has with Hall and Lumpkin schools to provide field experience for the university's student teachers. UNG's professional development community (PDC) model puts university students and their professors in K-12 classrooms in a two-year, full-immersion model that has received high praise from school systems and accreditation bodies.

"The university working in collaboration with the school system benefits all of our students. Most importantly, the students in our system will benefit from increasing their understanding of science and math to make them more highly qualified in these areas," said Dewey Moye, superintendent of Lumpkin County Schools. "This project is a chance for our teachers to get more professional development and also further enhances the great partnership that we have with UNG."

Both Moye and Schofield have pledged their support of the program, including allowing teachers to have a substitute so they may attend the seminars, a cost that is covered in the grant. Also included in the grant is a $750 stipend per teacher for each of the two summers.

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