Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Teaching institute and science camp continue education research

Three  Randolph students and three Randolph professors are spending this week with local teachers and children at the Jubliee Family Development Center in Lynchburg.

Thao Nguyen ’17 helps a participant in the science summer
camp at the Jubilee Family Development examine a flower.
The annual science camp at Jubilee is part of an ongoing research project that aims to improve science education. Randolph has hosted the camp for at least 10 years as a way to examine how hands-on, experiment-based science lessons impact the way teachers and children think about science.

The camp is part of the 2014 Teacher Institute, which is a special program for K-8 teachers in Campbell, Bedford, and Amherst County Schools, Lynchburg City Schools, and New Vistas School. The institute, funded through a grant from the State Council of Higher Education, trains elementary and middle school teachers to better teach science with an emphasis on using hands-on and inquiry based methods. Randolph is in its sixth year of offering the institute, and last week, more than 60 local teachers participated in this year’s program, “Despicable Me—Getting Your Minions Interested in Science and Math.” Teachers selected for the institute received a stipend, recertification points, and equipment.

Several of the institute’s participants are joining the Randolph students and professors at Jubilee this week. While the local teachers put the lessons they learned from the institute into action, the Randolph professors and students continue their ongoing research by observing the teachers and the children.

Hart Gillespie ’15 leads a game of science-themed BINGO.
“There are some major problems in science education that our research project addresses,” said Hart Gillespie ’15, a student helping with the project this year. “One is the phenomenon that students lose interest in math and science as they get older and as they progress through school. In general, the Jubilee science camp and the institute have been shown to improve the perceptions of students towards science.”

In addition to helping operate the teaching institute and science camp, the Randolph students help contribute to resources that will allow more teachers to implement interactive science lessons.

Gillespie, a physics major, has been editing lesson plans for The New Science Teacher, a web page that disseminates information about hands-on approaches to teaching science and math. Shaun Chopp ’15, who is majoring in biology, has been editing videos from last year’s Jubilee camp so teachers can watch the experiments for lesson ideas. He also is recording experiments during this week’s camp. Thao Nguyen ’17, majoring in global studies, has been doing a literature review to find sources to be cited in a paper being written by the Randolph professors.

They each have different perspectives that allow them to contribute to the project in unique ways. “It takes everyone's skill sets and applies them in different ways,” Chopp said. “It’s been a pretty fulfilling project in that sense.”

Nguyen, who comes from Vietnam, said it has been interesting to see how science education is done in the United States. “I think the project will help to promote active learning and help teachers to make science and math more fun,” she said.

Peter Sheldon, a physics professor and director of the Center for Student Research, Peggy Schimmoeller, an education professor, and Amanda Rumore, director of the Summer Research Program, are the Randolph professors who oversee the project.

Randolph students selected for the Davenport Leadership Program will also volunteer at the camp on Friday.