Teachers sharpen science skills

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North Central Texas College biology professor Lisa Bellows, left, helps Tiffany Schmitz, a Houston YES Prep teacher, and Sharon Sanders, a Sanger Middle School teacher, see plankton through the microscope via their iPads during teacher training at the school Thursday in Gainesville.
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Collecting pond scum samples, aquatic organisms and even learning the best ways to use an iPad, a group of 20 science teachers are spending two weeks at North Central Texas College to learn about classroom innovation.

NCTC science instructors Sara Flusche and Lisa Bellows have been hosting two-week summer institutes for area science teachers for the past 10 years, with this year’s program titled “Teacher Quality Professional Development.”

Through the grant-sponsored program, teachers learn skills, experiments and lesson plans to bring back to their classrooms in the fall, Bellows said. The program, which began Monday, July 8, extends past the end of the two-week training, with four daylong sessions scheduled throughout the school year. Additionally, there will be an online community so the teachers can remain connected and exchange ideas.

“We’re building community with these teachers,” Bellows said. “In several cases, we have teams of teachers from a school district so there is a stronger alignment by the teachers within a district, so we have seventh-grade and high school teachers working on science curriculum so students have a seamless transition.”

The program originally aimed to help rural science teachers, Bellows said. One participant this year is responsible for teaching all science courses for seventh through 12th grade for an entire district, and can use the network for help and feedback.

“It’s pretty hard to be a master of it all,” Bellows said. “They oftentimes don’t have peers and not another science teacher to compare notes with and share lessons with ... so in these programs, they build a community, and now a rural teacher may get to share ideas with a group they may not have had access to.”

This summer, the group is focusing on learning about micro-organisms in soil and how to incorporate this into the classroom through teaching tips, curriculum and experiments. For example, earlier this week, the teachers went out to a pond on the Gainesville campus to collect pond sludge to make a device to culture a large diversity of micro-organisms — a project students could complete and track for growth throughout the school year.

In addition to more traditional lesson plans and experiments, the teachers are also learning how to incorporate new technology into the program. As part of the grant, each participant received an iPad and a small projector. Aubrey teacher Ellyn Hulsey, a 25-year-old recent college graduate, said she didn’t realize how she could incorporate technology into the classroom until this week.

“I like that it’s not only the science part of it, but I’m getting some of the technology I never even considered,” Hulsey said. “More than anything though, I’ve learned how to take science from nature and to make it relevant.”

Making continuing education for high school educators remains a priority for higher-education professionals, and are important to maintain, Bellows said.

“These teachers are teaching my future students,” she said. “We are a community college, and we have an obligation to serve our community, which includes our community schools, the teachers and their students. It just builds a tremendous bond that we’re delighted to share with our area schools.”

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.


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