Grant Used to Train Science Educators

Sixty Mid-Missouri Teachers to Participate in Leadership Program
Curator’s Teaching Professor of Physics Meera Chandrasekhar

A 1.1 million-dollar grant from Wipro will allow Curator’s Teaching Professor of Physics Meera Chandrasekhar and her team to expand science training to K–12 science teachers in central Missouri counties.

Jordan Yount
News Source: 
College of Arts & Science
Departments: 
Physics and Astronomy

MU Curator’s Teaching Professor of Physics Meera Chandrasekhar and her colleagues, Teaching Professor Dorina Kosztin and Assistant Teaching Professor Karen King, spent six years training ninth-grade science teachers in Missouri to become intellectual leaders of their schools under the National Science Foundation–funded program, A TIME for Freshman Physics in Missouri, commonly called Physics First.

A new 1.1 million-dollar grant from Wipro, a global information technology, consulting, and business process services company, will allow Chandrasekhar and her team to expand science training to K–12 science teachers in central Missouri counties. The team is expanding as well: Associate Professor Marcelle Siegel from the College of Education will be part of the four-year training program. The University of Missouri is one of three new sites chosen for the Wipro Science Education Fellowship (SEF) project. The other two sites are the University of South Florida and Stanford University. The new sites are part of a collaboration of seven Wipro SEF sites led by Prof. Arthur Eisenkraft of the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

“Physics First was an intense professional development program. The teachers were on the front lines, and some of them have since trained others,” Chandrasekhar says. “The Wipro grant is a little different. It’s still working with teachers, but this time it looks at all grades of K–12 and all subjects in science—biology, earth science, chemistry, and physics.”

Chandrasekhar says three cohorts of 20 teachers each will be recruited from school districts in Boone County and adjacent counties and will participate starting in 2018, 2019 and 2020.

Teaching the Teachers

This fall, the 20 teachers will be grouped into four groups of five. One group will teach biology, one will teach physics, and so on for chemistry and earth science. The entire team will choose one topic that is taught in some way at all grade levels.  

“One teacher teaches the topic to kindergarten and first-grade students, one teaches it to third –fifth graders, another to sixth –eighth graders, and one teaches it to ninth-twelfth grade students,” says Chandrasekhar. “They will videotape their teaching and discuss it in their small groups. The whole idea is to improve everybody’s teaching and also to build that connection between different grades.”

(L-R) Sheryl Madden, Christina Brands and Matt Boldt

                                   (L-R) Physics First teachers Sheryl Madden, Christina Brands and Matt Boldt

Chandrasekhar says it is often difficult to establish that connection between grades because, for example, 12th-grade teachers don’t necessarily know the depth to which students may have learned a particular topic in previous grades, which are often housed in different buildings. She says building these connections will help teachers build continuity across grades.    

When they return in the spring, the teachers will be grouped by the grade levels they teach. They will choose a topic that is similar across the four main subjects, such as energy transfer, or they will focus on a particular pedagogical method, and videotape those lessons and then discuss how the topic or strategy is used in the different subjects.

“This is a really important idea for the Next Generation Science Standards because there is a dimension called cross-cutting concepts,” Chandrasekhar says. “Students don’t realize that when you talk about energy it’s the same thing—it’s the same joule and the same process but the details look different in chemistry compared to physics and so on. So by having this discussion across the subjects, you are seeding this sideways connection; we are creating an interdisciplinary approach in grade school.”

Chandrasekhar says the goal is to have the three cohorts of science educators who will participate in this grant become leaders in their respective schools and then train other teachers in their districts. At the end of the four-year program, she says the team hopes to see evidence of “cross fertilization” at the schools that are participating.

“We hope the school districts will go on and do something like this for math and English and other subjects,” she says. “I’d like to see fertilization between language and science because when students read, they could read about science. Lots of kids like to read about science, especially in elementary school—and one would like to keep this interest going in higher grades as well.”

In a teacher’s second year in the Wipro SEF project, they will work on individual projects.

The first cohort of 20 Wipro Science Education Teacher Fellows will be inducted in a ceremony May 8, 5:00 p.m., in the Bond Life Sciences Center Atrium.

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