Urban science educators share strategies

October 30—It is Friday but I must tell you about the Urban Science Education Leaders (USEL) event.  It was very exciting! Why? The participants were so engaging and really were looking for information and answers and just wanted to learn and see more.  They began with the chair of the Urban Science Education Leaders presentation.  Dr. Bobby Jean-Pierre has amassed research over the last 10 years on how to better engagement between administrators and teachers.  Her studies and survey showed that allowing teachers a stake in the process was the most effective approach.  She spoke passionately as an educator and as a parent who wanted to see all children succeed.

Dr. Jean-Pierre also challenged the participants to look at this whole process of teaching inquiry.  What does inquiry look like in the classroom? One teacher from a small area in Minnesota asked about the time it takes to teach inquiry, which is a technique that has been found to be most effective in teaching science to students.  Basically, the students are guided to ask questions, find evidence, and make deductions. It is an engaging way to involve students and make science interesting because it allows the students natural curiosity to lead them in the process. This sparked a lot of discussion and led to our tour of two schools that have some innovative approaches to teaching science.

The first school Battle Creek Middle School uses the single gender approach and with great success.  They have common time for the boys and girls to mingle but the classes are all single gender.  The premise is that girls and boys process information differently, so their teachers prepare the lessons in science using inquiry and the natural strengths of the gender they are teaching.  The girls classes are more ‘chatty’ and the boys classes a bit calmer.  The USEL participants were able to talk with the students and watch the classes and make observations.
The second school, Washington Technology Magnet Middle School, uses the BioSmart model and introduces the students to three strands, Bio Medical and Health Services, Bio Engineering and Technology, and Bio Communication (Business and Marketing).  It is a high-tech approach with practical applications and allows students to follow a path in one of those areas more intensely in high school if they so choose.  This gives them practical skills and promotes critical thinking and analysis.

As an example, they have a shop class, but it is not like the wood shop class of old.  The students design their projects using AutoCAD, a design program used in industry.  They then take their design and build it in the wood shop studio and test it.

When we returned from the tour the principals of the two schools came and answered questions.  The discussion was lively and interactive and the participants really grilled the principals on every aspect of their programs. Then the science coordinator and the STEM coordinator presented an education overview of Minnesota, focusing on urban challenges. It was insightful to see how they had and continue to make the adjustment to address the changing demographics and the new challenges that come from a diverse demographic.

For the first time in the history of the state, they are getting an influx of very diverse populations looking for a new life. Language barriers as well as cultural and economic barriers are difficult, but the state of Minnesota educational system has implemented many steps and programs to assist their educators in handling the transition, so students are not lost in the system. It was an inspiring, informative and instructional day. This is a wonderful program; the participants appreciated the dialogue, the information and most of all the sharing with colleagues. We had three teachers from Canada and their system is different but they saw a lot of informative approaches and shared with other teachers. They were really excited. We look forward to more from this program.

—Tanya Radford

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