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Workshop develops hands-on learning tactics

June 22, 2011

By COLLEEN MCCARTHY
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

Area high school science teachers are on the other side of the classroom this week as they participate in Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow’s summer workshop at Mississippi State University.
MSU is one of only five universities in the country to receive the Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The grant helps to place highly qualified science teachers in local schools.
“Its purpose is to improve the quality of science teacher education so that we’re producing teachers for high schools that have a strong background in education and in their choice of science, which are physics, biology and chemistry,” said Project Coordinator Jennifer Weir. “... one aspect of the grant is training students to be really strong teachers and really have a strong knowledge of research and lab base to take into the classroom. We’re getting students much more interested in science to bridge that gap.”
Besides training education majors, the program also offers an annual summer workshop for current high school science teachers which gives hands-on experience to show how they can incorporate lab-based activities in their own classrooms. Two Starkville High School teachers and one Oktibbeha County teacher participated in the workshop, along with several teachers from around the state.
“It’s a good opportunity and we learn a lot. It’s all hands-on science,” said Torri Clay, a human anatomy and physiology teacher at Starkville High School. Clay has participated in the workshop for several years and takes many of the activities and skills she learns there to her own classroom.
“We talk about how we can adapt the classroom activities. Of course, we don’t always have the resources and materials that they have, but we can figure out ways to use what we do have.”
The workshop also shows the teachers how they can incorporate different scientific concepts into their own subjects, like bringing in a bit of chemistry into a biology class. The teachers are encouraged to be creative in their lessons to get students excited about science. Even teachers with decades of experience are learning something new.
“I’m trying to get information that I can take back to the classroom — new ideas, interesting topics — that I can relate back to the subjects I’m teaching,” said Debbie Tolbert, who also teaches at Starkville High School. “The main thing is that it’s been a long time since I graduated from college, and I’m just looking for some new ideas. Kids have changed a lot in the last 25 years, and they need something a little different from the way children were taught when I started out.”
Throughout the week, instructors worked on labs that are fun and engaging for students, but still cost effective for schools. On Wednesday, they spent the afternoon digging for fossils on campus.
“This is an activity that many of them wouldn’t have thought to do before, and it’s free to them,” said Renee Clary, a professor with the geosciences department. “It’s something they can go and do out at their own schools.”
Although the labs and classroom activities have been a great learning experience, many of the teachers said they’re learning the most from each other.
“It’s a great way to get to know the other teachers in the area and share ideas,” Clay said. “We get a chance to bond and talk about what goes on in the classroom.”

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