On March 1, the teams began recruiting fourth- and fifth-grade teachers nominated by the partner schools for the project, which is titled “Central Virginia Collaborative for Developing STEM Lessons to Improve Learning in Grades 4 and 5.”
From August 2011 to June 2012 the teachers will develop integrated STEM lessons — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — through an “iterative lesson study” process. These will result in a set of instructional videos to be disseminated and incorporated into the curriculum by the participating school systems in the next academic year.
Several circumstances led to the collaboration with Lynchburg College, said Jill Granger, project director and professor of chemistry at Sweet Briar. The DOE’s video requirement was a hurdle, because Sweet Briar doesn’t have the infrastructure that Lynchburg College has through its media center. The schools also realized they were going after the same funding.
“Collaboration allowed us to develop a more comprehensive grant proposal that capitalized on each college’s expertise,” said Paula Lichiello, assistant dean of graduate studies and project coordinator.
Lynchburg College, through its regional school division partners, knew the critical needs that could be addressed through the grant, while Sweet Briar’s team of science and math experts already had a project in mind.
Everything coalesced at a joint meeting with the school divisions’ math and science leaders. “It was their enthusiasm that really got this project moving,” Granger said.
Both colleges are experienced in teacher development programs, but Granger said the STEM project differs in some ways from earlier grant-funded training she has administered.
First, the “deliverables” will become part of the participating schools’ fourth- and fifth-grade curricula. The project won’t produce subject-specific lessons, but rather integrated STEM lessons that will track with Virginia’s Standards of Learning for each grade. The introduction of engineering components is also new, and it makes problem-based learning more important to the process, Granger said.
Previously, Sweet Briar’s teacher clinics emphasized inquiry-based instruction, with students answering questions using a scientific approach. In problem-based learning, students solve a problem by applying concepts they already know and by learning new ones as needed find a solution.
“Both are ‘hands-on, minds-on’ active forms of learning,” Granger said. “They are related but distinctly different teaching approaches designed to engage the students more deeply in critical thinking and analysis.”
The 18 teacher participants will test the teams’ initial lesson plans in their classrooms, evaluate and revise them, and repeat the process. Three of four iterations will be taped and edited by the teachers to capture what works best. LC’s media center will produce the video set, which will be disseminated at a regional conference for fourth- and fifth-grade teachers. The training videos and materials will be made available online.
“We want teachers showing their best practices in inquiry-based and problem-based learning. They’ll go through several iterations of taping so that in the end, the product will be refined,” Granger said.
The teachers will receive substantial stipends, materials for the classroom, and continuing education or graduate credit for their work.
Besides Granger, the Sweet Briar team includes biology instructor Arlene Vinion-Dubiel, engineering director Hank Yochum, director of graduate programs in education Jim Alouf, and math educator Cynthia Osterhus from Catawba College. SBC psychology professor Tim Loboschefski will provide the project’s external evaluation.
At Lynchburg College, in addition to Lichiello, Bill Noel, associate professor of communications and director of the Donovan Center, will lead the video production, and dean of graduate studies Ed Polloway serves on the Partnership Leadership Team.
“We are fortunate to have a high-spirited group of professionals dedicated to bringing best practices in math and science education into the classroom,” Granger said. “It’s energizing because the teachers have so many great ideas and when the results start coming back from the classroom, there’s nothing better than that — and we know they have the support of their division leaders. This is going to be fun.”