UMR faculty receive grant to improve science instruction in Missouri schools

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On February 25, 2004

This summer, faculty members from the University of Missouri-Rolla will help teachers in nine rural Missouri schools improve their science instruction through a workshop to enhance the teachers’ knowledge of and techniques in teaching matter, energy and living systems.

In February, the UMR group received a $141,111 grant from the Missouri Department of Higher Education and the Coordinating Board of Higher Education for "Teacher Enhancement in a South Central Missouri Rural Science Coalition." UMR’s project was one of seven professional development projects throughout the state to receive funding.

The grant supports a mid-summer workshop on the UMR campus to help teachers improve their teaching of science to their students in grades ranging from middle school to high school. The workshop will focus on matter, energy and life sciences, but will also feature units on understanding experimental data. Participants will experience different teaching styles, such as cooperative learning, peer instruction and quick-concept web work.

"With this course we’re looking at things we can do to get the teachers excited about science so they can keep their students excited," says Dr. Allan Pringle, professor of physics at UMR. Pringle works with area schools to engage students in learning about science by making the learning process more fun. "If the students are engaged throughout the learning process, they perform better on standardized tests as a result of their increased knowledge."

The goal of the project is to help science teachers in Missouri’s rural schools to develop improved techniques for teaching science, ultimately resulting in higher student scores on the science portion of the Missouri Assessment Program tests, says Dr. Evalee Lasater, adjunct associate professor of education and coordinator of UMR’s teacher education program.

Lasater’s role is to guide the university faculty in developing the workshop to ensure the materials fit middle-school through high-school curricula.

In addition to assisting Missouri’s science teachers, UMR’s faculty can also learn from what Dr. Ronald J. Bieniek, associate professor of physics, sees as a symbiotic process.

"We hope to help the UMR faculty realize its role in enhancing education throughout the state at all levels," says Bieniek, who also serves as director of UMR’s Learning Enhancement Across Disciplines program and New Faculty Programs. "We want to give new ideas to the teachers, while realizing we can also learn from them."

Rural schools often lack the funding to purchase necessary scientific equipment, Lasater says. Each teacher participating in the UMR workshop will receive an LCD projector to take back to his or her classroom to help draw on the full power of the web an other electronic materials in teaching science.

These projectors will allow the teachers to engage their students as a group in the learning process with interactive animated applets found on the Internet. These applets give students a visual active demonstration of scientific principles that are difficult to describe or investigate in other ways without expensive equipment. For example, when Bieniek teaches escape velocity, he can use an animation of a cannon firing at different angles and speeds to investigate the "escape" speed required for a cannon ball (or rocket) never to return to Earth.

Other UMR faculty members assisting with the workshop include Dr. David J. Westenberg, associate professor of biological sciences, who will present a life sciences unit; and Dr. V.A. Samaranayake, professor of mathematics and statistics, who will present a unit about analyzing data and measurements from experiments.

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On February 25, 2004. Posted in News