A group of 60 elementary school teachers from the Clark County School District (CCSD) will get a crash course in geology June 13-17 at UNLV as part of a collaborative effort to boost science content knowledge among local teachers.
Project VISIONS (Venture Into Scientific Inquiry Organized around Nevada Standards) is a three-year professional development partnership between the CCSD and UNLV's Center for Math and Science Education. Entering its second year, the project's goal is to improve elementary student achievement in science by enhancing teachers' knowledge of basic science concepts.
The theory, according to organizers, is that by improving their science content knowledge, elementary school teachers - who by way of training are generalists - will have more confidence to engage students in science activities in their classrooms.
"VISIONS gives elementary teachers an opportunity to participate directly in science activities through teaching strategies that are known to promote student learning," said MaryKay Orgill, UNLV associate professor and project co-lead. "We need to encourage more students to pursue careers in science, technology, and engineering, and elementary school teachers have the power to spark student interest at an early age that can stay with them for life."
Each year, the program focuses on a different field of science within a unifying theme of energy. This year, energy will be explored through concepts related to geology.
VISIONS begins with a weeklong summer institute at UNLV's Science & Engineering building. A group of 60 CCSD teachers from kindergarten through fifth grade will participate in an intensive weeklong course on the principles of geology, taught by UNLV scientists and local high school science teachers.
Participants will supplement their summer experience at the institute with a fall graduate-level course at UNLV, during which they will develop an "action research project" based on VISONS principles. Those teachers will then implement their project in their classrooms during the spring. The success of the project will be evaluated by documenting changes in knowledge, dispositions, skills, and behaviors in both teachers and students.
VISIONS is the third UNLV/CCSD science education professional development program funded through a federal Math and Science Partnership program. The first, Project PASS (Proficiency and Success in Science), targeted high school science content knowledge and proved remarkably successful in raising high school student performance. A recent UNLV study revealed that students enrolled in a target course with teachers who successfully completed PASS - which ran from 2005-2008 - were more than twice as likely to pass the state science examination as students enrolled in the target course with non-PASS teachers. Project MIST (Mathematics Integrated with Science Using Technology), which wrapped up last summer, is still being evaluated but early results show similar improvements.
Teachers who successfully complete the VISIONS program will earn credits toward a graduate degree, which helps teachers progress to obtain "highly qualified" status. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires all states and school districts to develop a plan to ensure that all public elementary, middle and secondary school teachers who are teaching in core academic subjects meet the requirements of a "highly qualified" teacher.
Project 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 on the project 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.