How do fish breathe? What's the difference between a food chain and a food web? These life science fundamentals may seem elementary, but explaining them to a group of third-graders in an engaging and memorable way is no easy task.
That's why UNLV and the Clark County School District (CCSD) have teamed up this week to give 61 elementary teachers a crash course in life sciences. The idea is that if teachers have a better understanding of core science concepts, they'll have the confidence to introduce more science in their classrooms in a way that will stick with their students.
Project VISIONS is a professional development partnership between UNLV's Center for Math and Science Education and CCSD's Curriculum and Professional Development Division to boost student achievement in science. It improves K-5 teacher content knowledge, conceptual awareness, and self-confidence. The project is entering its third and final year, with each year focused on a different science field with the unifying theme of energy. The topic this year is life sciences.
UNLV professors and local high school science teachers will lead interactive activities and small group discussions, helping participants first to understand core science principles and then to develop ideas for practical classroom activities.
In the fall, the experience continues in a graduate class at UNLV where participants will develop research projects based on VISIONS. Next spring the research will hit the classroom, allowing teachers to track how student learning has improved.
Teacher knowledge and confidence levels have risen the past two years, leading to better student outcomes, project organizers say. The interaction between elementary, high school, and university instructors has also led to stronger professional networks and year-round collaboration.
Project VISIONS runs June 11-15 at UNLV.
VISIONS is the third UNLV/CCSD science education professional development program funded through a federal Math and Science Partnership program. A recent UNLV study resulting from the first program showed that students of high school teachers who completed the program were more than twice as likely as students of nonprogram teachers to pass the Nevada State Proficiency Exam in Science.
VISIONS is funded through a three-year grant by the Nevada Department of Education as part of a federal Math and Science Partnership program. Principal investigators include MaryKay Orgill, UNLV associate professor of chemistry; Hasan Deniz, UNLV assistant professor of curriculum and instruction; and Mary Pike, CCSD K-12 director of science, health, physical education and foreign language. UNLV faculty and CCSD's Curriculum and Professional Development Division provide additional program support.