For the second time in three years, the federal Mathematics and Science Partnership (MSP) program is backing a partnership between the University of North Georgia (UNG) and area schools to strengthen student achievement in science, this time providing $126,494 in funding.
"The impact that this interdisciplinary team of UNG faculty is having on the science educators — and by extension, the students — in our region is immeasurable," said Dr. Susan Brandenburg-Ayres, dean of UNG's College of Education. "Our partnerships with community schools continue to be a hallmark of our college, and this program is elevating that mission to a new level."
The program being funded, Science Content Inquiry Training (SCI-Train), is under the direction of Dr. April Nelms, head of UNG's Department of Teacher Education, and builds upon the previous science education program funded from 2014-16. The new grant will fund SCI-Train for its first year of operation, with contingency for a second year of funding support if the program successfully meets several criteria. The project is co-directed by Drs. Sanghee Choi, associate professor of science education, and Mark Spraker, professor of physics.
"We were very encouraged by the results of the previous program funded by MSP, and are looking forward to using those results to help make SCI-Train an even stronger program," Nelms said. "We can't overstate the importance of giving young students a passion for science, and to help that happen, we want to ensure that their teachers have every tool available to make that passion a reality."
Inquiry-based learning is the premise behind the program; the goal is to foster curiosity in young students by helping them make connections and form questions on their own. The program aims to accomplish this by helping teachers implement new learning methods that have a greater focus on hands-on instruction and opportunities for student discussion and creativity.
"Kids are naturally curious about science, and I want to encourage that," said Gladys Morales, who teaches third grade at the World Language Academy in Flowery Branch, Georgia. "When students discover something on their own and discuss it with each other, that's when it really sticks and gives them a strong command of the fundamentals."
In addition to 20 sessions over the planned two-year project, teachers will also have additional experiences such as attending and presenting at the Georgia Science Teacher Association and the Georgia STEM Forum.
"I'm excited to be in this program, because the first one really helped me get a stronger handle on how to effectively teach the content," said Melanie Teffs, a second-grade teacher from Flowery Branch Elementary who also participated in the 2014-16 program. "The projects and experiments I've learned to take back to my classroom are very doable and affordable, and the investment has been more than worth it as I've watched my students explore and learn."
Partners in the project include the Hall County School System, Lumpkin County School System, Dahlonega-Lumpkin Chamber of Commerce, Hall County Chamber of Commerce, and the Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency.