VISTA Helps Create Innovative Learning and Teaching in STEM Fields

Posted: July 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm, Last Updated: July 7, 2011 at 1:34 pm

By Catherine Ferraro

Mason graduate students work with budding scientists in the summer Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology (CREST) science camp. Creative Services photo

Nearly a year into the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) project, Mason is already making great progress to help engage students and teachers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, which are proven to be vital in today’s workplace and for America’s future economic growth.

The five-year VISTA program focuses on high-need (high-poverty, high-minority) schools to improve science teaching and student learning throughout Virginia.

In addition, VISTA will expand upon and validate prior research and active-learning programs conducted within Mason’s College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) and the Center for Restructuring Education in Science and Technology (CREST) over the past 15 years.

The project is a partnership that includes 47 Virginia school districts, six universities and the Virginia Department of Education. University partners are the College of William and Mary, James Madison University, University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University and Virginia Tech.

The project is funded by a $28.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

Putting Effective Leadership in Place

Spearheaded by Donna R. Sterling, professor of science education and director of CREST, the VISTA program recently added two co-directors to the team.

Eric M. Rhoades and Karla Ver Bryck Block joined the VISTA project in December 2010 and January 2011, respectively.

Rhoades previously served as the supervisor of mathematics and science education at Stafford County (Va.) Schools, as well as the science coordinator at the Virginia Department of Education. Ver Bryck Block previously served as a senior manager of international programs at the U.S. Department of Education.

In addition, both are actively involved in various professional organizations throughout the state focusing on mathematics and science education.

Rhoades will focus on creating professional development programs primarily for elementary teachers and science coordinators. He will also develop and lead science education leadership programs in area school divisions.

Ver Bryck Block’s role will be to manage the programs for secondary teachers and science education faculty, as well as the research and evaluation components of the project. She also oversees the fiscal components of the grant.

Supporting Teacher and Student Learning

The VISTA program focuses on four main areas that will build an infrastructure of sustained, intensive science teacher professional development to increase student performance. Several of these components are already under way.

Earlier this year, Mason welcomed science coordinators from across Virginia to a five-day new science coordinator academy. The academy provided professional development and leadership training for teachers with less than five years of experience in school division science education leadership.

In addition, Mason hosted a five-day science education academy for faculty from Virginia’s universities and colleges to share effective teaching strategies and new research.

Currently under way is a four-week professional development science institute for elementary school teachers that runs through July 22. It takes place at Mason, the College of William and Mary and Virginia Commonwealth University. The institute also includes a two-week summer camp to engage children from high-poverty schools in inquiry-based science.

Throughout the summer institute, teachers will work collaboratively to learn a particular area of science, work with students in a science classroom environment and learn from scientists around the area.

“When teachers are involved in the kind of work that scientists actually do they have a better understanding of science,” says Rhoades. “This is when they experience true science and can then start changing their teaching methods and transfer this knowledge to their students.”

A fourth component of the VISTA program will begin in August with a two-year professional development program for provisionally licensed secondary school science teachers. Throughout the program, they will take graduate courses in educational methods and receive coaching during the academic year.

For more information about the VISTA program, visit the website.



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