Educators Tackle Science and Teaching Skills at SHU Summer School

News Story:

Thirty-five Connecticut elementary school teachers are spending two of the first weeks of their summer break in the classroom. They are part of a three-year program being held at Sacred Heart University that combines intensive grounding in science with innovative approaches to teaching. The institute is funded by a $300,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Higher Education.

The teachers come from a wide variety of school districts ranging from inner city environments to the wealthier suburbs. According to Professor Paul W. Massey of Sacred Heart University’s Isabelle Farrington School of Education, the intent is to bring teachers together from widely differing situations so that each one can “teach” and learn from the others both in the classroom and after the formal program is disbanded. Participants come from the following districts: Bridgeport, Fairfield, Monroe, Norwalk, Waterbury, Trumbull and the Diocese of Bridgeport. Districts were selected for the distinctiveness of their academic settings and their willingness to support the participants.

This summer’s program concentrates on the life sciences including ecology and environmental studies. Next year, the emphasis is on the physical sciences, and the following year, on earth science. Participants receive a stipend to attend the intensive 40-hour summer institute as well as three graduate credits in “Combining Inquiry and Ecology in Elementary Science Education.” Follow-up activities are planned for the coming academic year. These will include the summer students sharing their experiences in graduate education classes at Sacred Heart. According to Professor Massey, many educators in the primary grades have a limited background in the sciences, sometimes as little as one or two college-level courses.

The summer institute allows participants to experience a variety of inquiry-based activities ranging from class discussions and student presentations to hands-on science experiments to field work involving different physical environments. Students are engaged in creating miniature ecosystems in the classroom, predicting eventual outcomes and then measuring those expectations against the actual results. The experiments draw every student into the discussions and mirror the kind of activities these teachers will conduct with their own pupils. As the spirited classroom discussions proceed, it is obvious the students are enjoying this integrated approach to learning science and will enthusiastically share this approach in their own teaching.

Among the instructors from Sacred Heart University are Professor Massey, of the School of Education, as well as Dr. Jennifer Mattei, who chairs the University’s Biology Department, and Dr. Mark Beekey, an assistant professor of Biology. They are assisted by a cohort of adjunct professors from school districts in New York, Waterbury, Norwalk and Monroe, as well as the Maritime Center in Norwalk.

Funded by a Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) grant, the summer institute at Sacred Heart presents a collaborative, integrated approach to teaching elementary science that promotes inquiry-based teaching, performance-based assessments and shared strategies. It works to increase familiarity with Connecticut’s standards for science education and encourages differentiated instructional experiences in diverse districts. Further, it is meant to enhance elementary science education through more effective use of curriculum kits designed in accord with the best available research in child development and learning.