2008-03-13 / Front Page

Grant To Allow Teachers to Enhance Math, Science Studies

By Paul Gingras

St. Ignace Area Schools will send two teachers next year for extra university training in mathematics and science teaching techniques. Granting a year's sabbatical to the middle school teachers will serve as a test case for the intermediate school district, as the teachers will be the only two selected for the opportunity among the 15 local districts, and they will be expected to share their findings with other teachers. The project is funded by a $175,000 federal grant.

The new techniques are expected to enhance student achievement, help teachers and students meet new state standards, and teach them to apply their knowledge to realworld situations, said Michelle Ribant, curriculum coordinator for the Eastern Upper Peninsula Intermediate School District.

The two educators will be selected by summer. They will be expected to complete follow-up work when they return to their classrooms in fall 2009.

New standards demand that students learn more at younger ages, and be able to apply what they've learned. Teaching methods are moving toward more hands-on, individualized lessons, and away from textbook-driven instruction. Teachers will learn how to help make lessons relevant for their students' lives by localizing information.

One example would be having science students study examples of invertebrates found in local waters, instead of in Nebraska rivers, which some textbooks use, she said.

"Let's look out our shoreline and see what invertebrates we have here," she said.

Studying local environments makes science relevant to students, and when they make connections between their own environment and what they study in school, they learn better, she said.

Teachers will also explore how to find a way of relating a lesson to a student's individual interests. For example, if a student is particularly interested in a brontosaurus, mathematics teachers can get him to understand ratios by directing him to compare brain sizes between the brontosaurus and other animals.

All students have subjects they wonder about, and these can be useful teaching tools, she said. Ultimately, fostering connections between a child's interest and hard knowledge creates better thinkers, she said.

Supplying teachers with innovative techniques is a major focus at the intermediate school district's mathematics and science center, where the selected teachers will work next winter, Ms. Ribant said.

Many of the new techniques they will be exposed to will lead to hands-on education. Students will be required to ask questions and research the answers. This is part of a movement away from textbookdriven instruction.

No textbook is comprehensive enough to address all state and national standards that students are now required to achieve, Ms. Ribant said.

When students hunt, fish, and watch scientific programs on television, they are connected to everyday science and mathematics.

There is no reason for students to be failing in these disciplines, she said.

Older education models tend to bore exceptionally creative students, but with student-driven, relevance based education in place, she said, "I predict these students will become innovators."

Teachers will learn from professors at Lake Superior State University, Grand Valley State University, Saginaw Valley State University, and University of Michigan.

They will be required to assess their own progress and write reports, which the mathematics and science center will use to direct teachers to further studies.

This self-directed method of study is the same technique teachers are expected to use in their classes.

The $175,000 grant comes from a federal program encompassing Michigan's 33 mathematics and science centers at intermediate school districts and universities. The grant includes $10,000 for materials.

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