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Elementary school teachers boost science skills with UNG faculty

Psci Train 2015
Among the myriad projects that elementary teachers learned during the final week of Psci-Train's first year was an experiment designed to show students how pH levels vary in a variety of substances.

Thirty-four local elementary school teachers recently completed the first year of Psci-Train, a two-year professional development course taught by University of North Georgia (UNG) faculty to increase elementary students' science achievement.

The program's initial year began in November 2014 and culminated in June in a weeklong, hands-on series of sessions developed to help the teachers connect content in energy conservation, waves, gravity, sound, light, electricity, magnetism, and thermal energy to their students.

The program is funded by a Georgia Department of Education grant that was awarded through the federal Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) program. The program pairs UNG with Hall County Schools, Lumpkin County Schools, the Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

"We will have a large impact in our university's service area through these sessions. Each of these teachers will instruct 20 to 30 students during the school year," said Dr. April Nelms, assistant professor of science education at UNG and director of Psci-Train. "If they continue to work with other teachers in their school systems in sharing this content, the impact will become exponential."

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.

"UNG is ideally equipped to provide these tools and experiences because of the outstanding work the College of Education has already done with the local schools during previous years," said Dr. Mark Spraker, professor of physics at UNG and co-director of Psci-Train. "The college's innovative professional development communities have allowed the university to develop deep relationships with the teachers, so the school systems are already familiar with the caliber of instruction their teachers will receive."

The professional development communities developed by the College of Education places university students and their professors in K-12 classrooms in a two-year, full-immersion model. Psci-Train 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.

During the final week of Psci-Train, much of the instruction focused on showing the teachers methods to visually demonstrate scientific principles to their students. For example, Slinkies were used to emulate different types of waves, while Chinese lanterns demonstrated thermal energy.

Dr. Jennifer Wade, a fifth-grade teacher at Lumpkin County Elementary, said when educators are able to tap into a deeper understanding of pedagogy with inquiry, they are able to convey information to their students much more effectively.

"Children are naturally curious, and hands-on activities encourage problem-solving skills that teach independence and perseverance," said Carol Duncan, first-grade teacher at Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry in Hall County. "Project-based learning is here to stay, and we are appreciative of the exciting materials we have been exposed to during these sessions."

Teachers also discussed their own ideas and methods used to engage their students, and collaborated in groups to identify ways they might adapt the research-based teaching strategies presented during the sessions to their own classrooms and age-groups.

"Through these sessions, teachers can learn how to design and conduct experiments, how to make conclusions and how to interpret and apply understanding to students' everyday lives," said Dr. Sanghee Choi, assistant professor of science education at UNG and Psci-Train co-principal investigator.

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.

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