MONROE, La. -A group of science teachers in northeastern Louisiana are sharpening their data collection skills in a local bayou. These middle school instructors are working with trained scientists to transform field data into classroom lessons. And the research dovetails with new Common Core educational standards.
The three dozen teachers are observing humid natural conditions at Black Bayou Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The week-long program involves both field and classroom applications
Shirley McClain teaches sixth-grade science at Delhi Middle School in northeastern Louisiana. She says the training will convey practical field observations to the classroom.
“Knowing about the outside environment is very important because when you get dressed in the morning you have to listen to the weather – how to dress,” she explains. “So it has real world applications. It’s not just something you read in a textbook and won’t use ever again in their lives.”
Grant Money + Field Research = Better Teaching
But there are other advantages to the $120,000 study grant, funded by the Louisiana Systemic Initiatives Program. A Fairmont State University study completed in 2006 shows that science teachers who participated in a geology field research project demonstrated enhanced ability to transfer knowledge to their students.
Anne Case Hanks is an atmospheric scientist at the University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) . She says the program opens the door to a wide set of possibilities.
“The whole idea behind this grant is to take middle school science teachers and immerse them in the field to do citizen science, in which we look at connections between life science, earth science and physical science,” she says. “And we try to understand the variables in sort of an overarching immersion.”
ULM biologist Joydeep Bhattacharjee is also working with the middle school teachers. He says there is a direct connection between what the teachers learn at Black Bayou and what they’ll be able to impart to students.
“This project really brings the teachers out into the field. And that’s what we call it: outstanding in the field,” he says. “The teacher is really out in the field collecting data – and not just that: bringing the data back to the classroom. And once the data is in the classroom, the teachers are actually going to explain what it all means.”
Science Project Prepares Teachers for Common Core Instruction
But the way in which the meaning of this data is taught in middle schools will soon change. 45 states, including Louisiana, are working to implement new Common Core Standards. Common Core is aimed primarily at revising instruction methods of English and math. But the Common Core guide specifies that science literacy must incorporate what it calls “a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.”
Seventh-grade science teacher, Laurie Ratcliff says the data gathering projects are helping to facilitate this.
“Basically this is giving us some new avenues of ways to teach some of the same information that we have been teaching in the past, but are tying closer to the common core standards that they are revising,” she says.
Ratcliff says that the lessons learned in the field will serve students in the new Common Core instruction – even up to the post-secondary level.
“A lot of the testing – standardized testing – informational graphs and things that they see on the different tests, standardized tests, even for college entry, are based on a lot of interpretation of data.”
These new teaching tools may benefit both teachers and students over the long term, but biologist Joydeep Bhattacharjee is most excited about what’s taking place on the ground now.
“What the teachers are doing today is learning more about how micro-climate, such as under a tree, or maybe closer to a marsh, or closer to a wetland – being closer to water, how does this change the micro climate?
Bhattacharjee says understanding such connections is crucial – both for teachers and for students.
“Ecology’s important because that’s pretty much what drives the entire planet, if you ask me,” he says.
The teachers will complete the workshop with another field trip for more observations. They are also slated to construct weather stations to bring back to their classrooms as instructional tools.