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Science camp teaches educators about effective teaching techniques

CASTLE ROCK – The joy Douglas County elementary teachers have for science is evident when you watch dozens of them tinker with Legos as they build sailboats or shriek with glee as seltzer water-powered rockets pop off the launching pad.
“The lesson, in the end? Play!” said Val Marbury of Soaring Hawk Elementary, while she tweaking her rocket. [Learning] has to be fun. You have to play.”
More than 232 teachers from across the District participated in a science camp organized by the World Class Education and Choice Programming department, which aimed at finding ways to integrate that kind of highly-engaging lesson into Douglas County School District (DCSD) classrooms.
The multi-day event not only provided these elementary teachers with science experiments that they can use and proved that physics can be integrated into elementary school classrooms; but it also demonstrated highly-effective teaching techniques that DCSD hopes will be employed everyday.
“My hope is that kids experience in Douglas County experience great science and that inquiry is alive and well,” explained camp organizer Jaime Bailey.
She says that great efforts were taken to ensure that the training was not a “sit-and-get” for teachers. The goal was to model best teaching practices like backwards design, performance assessments and great classroom management, which really enable high-level learning.
“We wanted to make sure that we weren’t doing things one way and expecting them to go back to their classrooms and replicate it a totally different way, which is how a lot of things in professional development have happened for teachers,” Bailey said. “They’re wearing a lot of hats today. They’re wearing the hat of the learner to experience the lab and then we switch hats and they wear the hat of the facilitator in the classroom.”
While the focus of the experiments was on physics, Bailey and the other “camp counselors” showed the educators how the tasks can accomplish World-Class outcomes, like teaching students about inquiry, or in other words, how to think like a scientist.
During the science camp, the teachers are encouraged to experiment with the materials at hand—often inexpensive items that have been collected or purchased at the local grocery or hardware story.  Then they consider how they might allow students to do the same. The goal is to allow students to lead their learning and for teachers to act more as guides, rather than sages.
“In my classroom, that is what I tell my kids,” said Christi Johnson from Cherokee Trail Elementary. “Everybody in this room is a teacher.  I’m not the person that knows all the answers, and I have no problem with a kid asking me a question that I don’t know—and saying ‘let’s find out together.’ 
Bailey says that can be outside of a teacher’s comfort because throughout the history of teaching it has been understood that the educators’ role was to impart all of the required information to their students. Not having complete control or knowing all of the answers is a foreign concept.
“There has been somebody in the room that has been brave enough to say, ‘I’m so uncomfortable doing this because I don’t know exactly why the physics works this way.’  Certainly we want to give them the tools to find out that information, but more importantly we keep telling them, that’s not what’s most important—it’s the inquiry process that is most important,” Bailey explained. “It’s the questioning, the problems, it’s the wondering—‘what do I do next,’ and ‘where does this learning take me next in my journey?’ We are trying to make people feel a little more comfortable that that’s okay.”
I’ve had great secondary teachers involved in the planning and it’s nice when the elementary teachers hear the middle school science teachers say, that’s okay—we want them to come to middle school and love science and love how to question and wonder, think scientifically,” Bailey added.
This style of teaching allows students to get to higher levels of learning in Bloom’s Taxonomy, including “Create”—through 21st Century Skills like Collaboration, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Communication.
“Kids need to be moving, talking, they need to be comparing—they need to be doing things that allow them to be engaged. They don’t need to be sitting still,” Johnson said.
Following the camp, Johnson says she plans to push her students even farther than she had before.
“Having the kids explain, 'how do you know?' what they think they know. In the end looking at learning as, ‘alright, has my perspective changed?’ Johnson added.
She welcomes opportunities like this science camp during the summer, because she knows that she doesn’t have the time needed during the school year. And she knows that the learning done here will have a direct impact on her students next fall.
“I am doing this because it makes me a better learning and it makes me a better teacher. It makes me a better collaborator,” Johnson said. “Things change too quickly and too dramatically in our world for us to not keep up with those changes and for us not to have an opportunity to ask questions and to explore ideas.”
All of the participating teachers were paid for their time and were also given a $450 stipend to help them purchase science resources for their classroom.
Based on the enthusiastic response, the World Class Education and Choice Programming Department is considering offering another science camp later this summer.
June 28, 2013 | By Anonymous | Category: Communications

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