NASHVILLE, Tn — When it comes to science class, some teachers are just as intimidated as their students.
“I was a little nervous because I know nothing about science,” says Dorcas Wallace, an experienced middle school teacher who was recently asked to teach the 4th grade science classes at her school. “It meant I had to go back and do a lot of research and everything.”
Wallace spent a week this summer in Nashville attending a teacher boot camp for STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math.
About 2 dozen middle school teachers from across Tennessee came together at Adventure Science Center in a quest to learn how to make science and math more interesting for their students. For most, it means stepping out of their comfort zones
“Get to know your squid!” barks the leader of the boot camp. She wears camouflage, boots, and paces the room like a sergeant, overseeing the teachers as they dissect their squids.
Most of the teachers at this boot camp teach some science; but few are trained as science teachers. Their challenge is not in knowing the content—but how to effectively deliver it, says Detra Thomas, who has taught 8th grade science for 14 years.
“We were not taught to teach this way; and this is a much more fun way of learning,” says Thomas. “It’s hands on. It’s more fun for us!”
It can also be a little messy, as Thomas learned first hand when squid juice squirted in her eye and on her sweater during the dissection.
“I thought I did everything right, but when I cut into it, the ink just squirted all over me,” laughs Thomas. “It was a little bit of a scare, but that’s okay. We cleaned up okay! And the kids would love it!”
Science should be fun, according to officials with Adventure Science Center. But there is nothing fun about the state of science education in this country.
“The United States, who put a man on the moon decades ago, now is 17th ranked out of 30 in industrial nations in our kids being prepared and proficient in science,” says Susan Duvenhage, president of Adventure Science Center.
Duvenhage says this boot camp is itself an experiment– the first to connect the center’s professional science and technology educators with school teachers for training. She hopes the camp will catch on.
“80% of the teachers in teaching now don’t have a special certification in science. It’s a general certification,” explains Duvenhage. “So we like to think that by offering the STEM Boot Camp, it’s an opportunity for the teachers to become comfortable with science in a fun hands-on approachable way that will also resonate with their kids.”
Thomas believes the result will be a chain reaction.
“When other students that are in 6th or 7th grade hear from my students what we’ve done in Ms. Thomas’ class and we’ve either blown this up, or we’ve cut this apart. It’s not the paperwork, it’s not the book work, it’s a hands-on type of learning.“