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Professors work to better science education

Student teachers in the College of Education at the University of North Georgia discuss the mini lessons they'll be presenting before Dawson County Middle School sixth-graders arrive for a field trip at Consolidated Gold Mines in Dahlonega. Pictured are Rebecca Brandt and Herschel Anderson.

Sometimes, even teachers can learn better by doing.

Two science education professors at the University of North Georgia (UNG) are combining lessons on educational methods and science content into one course that stresses inquiry-based learning for both student teachers and the sixth-graders in their Earth science lessons.

Science Education

Herschel Anderson, a student in UNG's Department of
Teacher Education, likens the contours of his hand to the
topographical features of a mountain range in a science
lesson for sixth-graders during a field trip to Consolidated
Gold Mines in Dahlonega.

The upper-level course by Joe Covert and Paul Baldwin, both faculty members in UNG's Department of Teacher Education, is being taught at Dawson County Middle School, which provides a chance for student teachers to collaborate with in-service teachers and work with students. UNG students learn Earth science content, then teach sixth-graders through their regular classes and an educational field trip to Consolidated Gold Mines in Dahlonega that reinforces geology, topography and physics concepts.

The National Science Teachers Association, an organization founded in 1944 to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching, says that students can more easily grasp science concepts through hands-on activities and inquiry.

Chelsea Boozer, a junior from Loganville, Ga., studying middle grades education, said that she's learned a lot simply by being based in a public school rather than on a UNG campus.

"I've learned a lot of content, and also how to talk in their language," Boozer said. "As teachers, we learn more by doing than by being told how to do it. We are trying to base our lessons on students doing activities and experiments instead of just listening to us lecture, because science can get boring if you're just talking at them."

Covert and Baldwin are studying the effectiveness of their method through a $5,000 internal UNG grant aimed at encouraging innovation in instruction. In fall 2013, UNG President Bonita Jacobs made a strategic budget allocation of $200,000 to support grants in three categories: Presidential Professional Engagement Awards, Presidential Summer Scholar Awards, and the Presidential Academic Innovation Awards. Awards ranged from $1,000 to $10,000 to support faculty development that, in turn, supports student achievement.

"These pioneering teaching methods are innovative and certainly the type of excellence in teaching that we are encouraging with these grants. We are proud of the work that professors Covert and Baldwin are doing," Jacobs said.

Science Education 2

After presenting an activity on mass and weight, Chelsea
Boozer, left, and Brandi Turk, right, both students in
UNG's Department of Teacher Education, join Dawson
County Middle School sixth-graders in panning for gold.

The grant will help Covert and Baldwin continue their research in the area of best-practices in science education; specifically, the pair will use the funds to write a manuscript and present their findings at two national education conferences.

"We're asking teachers to change the way that they're teaching, and in this case, we're talking about inquiry-based science, but if they themselves haven't learned that way, it's not really something they're comfortable with," Covert said. "I think what we're doing here is very ambitious, but I think if we can make this happen, we really can see some positive change both in the creation of new science teachers and the learning opportunities for students currently in the K-12 pipeline."

Dawson Middle Principal Mark Merges is excited about partnering with UNG and the benefits his school has gained, including staff development units and additional student instruction.

"We have high expectations, and this program is a positive thing that will help our students. It's great to have high test scores, but what's important to me is that they learn something and can retain that knowledge," Merges said. "What we're offering our students and UNG students is very powerful. We'll do whatever we can to help this relationship continue and hopefully grow and expand to other schools in the county."

Dawson Middle is one of dozens of schools across the region participating with UNG's College of Education in a professional development community, which embeds university students and their professors in public schools in a full-immersion model that provides a more integrated experience for student teachers.

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