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UGA summer institutes in math, science education help area teachers, students sharpen skills

UGA summer institutes in math, science education help area teachers, students sharpen skills

Athens, Ga. – Summer may be a time to rest, relax and get away for many area students and teachers but that doesn’t mean learning takes a break.

The rising eighth graders from schools in Clarke, Madison, Oconee, Oglethorpe and Gwinnett counties participated in a weeklong Summer Science Institute in which they engaged in interactive multicultural science inquiry activities to sharpen their critical thinking skills and broaden their experience. A group of 21 UGA master’s students in science education, many of them teachers in area schools, directed the sessions which allowed them to explore new ways to incorporate classroom-tested multicultural inquiry science activities into their lesson plans.

In one laboratory, fondly called “Ooey Gooey Fish Guts,” the middle school students used their reasoning and investigative abilities to pinpoint the diet, habitat and species of the plastic fish stomachs they examined. Then the students used clues to explore the cultural significance each fish has to a particular group of people.

“I think it’s helpful. We get to test our materials and multicultural ideas,” said Ashley Kennedy, a teacher at Central High School in Gwinnett County. Kennedy will receive her master’s degree in December.

“A multicultural inquiry science activity allows you to reach a variety of students in your classroom,” said Mary Atwater, a professor in UGA’s department of mathematics and science education. Atwater designed and directed the institute as a part of her science curriculum class and personally funded the sessions.

Atwater joined the UGA faculty in 1987 after becoming the first African-American female to earn a doctorate in science education at North Carolina State University in 1980. She was the first African-American female to serve as a department head at the University of Georgia when she headed mathematics and science education in 2005.

Meanwhile, about 100 K-8 teachers in Franklin County participated this week (Aug 6-10) in the fifth Summer Math Institute directed by Chandra Orrill, an associate research scientist in the College of Education’s Learning and Performance Support Laboratory.

The seminars, led by Orrill and several UGA doctoral students, demonstrated ways that teachers can introduce the Georgia Performance Standards in their classrooms while teaching in a way to best help their students learn to enjoy math. Dorothy White, an associate professor in the department of mathematics and science education, is overseeing the K-2 segment.

“We try to bring in case studies to show what works in classrooms,” said Orrill. “We just help them connect ideas.”

The first lesson at this year’s institute focused on discovering the importance of mathematics in the natural world. Orrill opened the session by modeling a lesson based on the Fibonacci sequence, which is related to the golden ratio, a string of numbers found in many aspects of nature, including flower petals and the human body.

“We want them to walk away with the notion that math is fun and is all around us,” she said.

The institutes also allow Orrill and the doctoral students to collect data about teacher learning. They have seen significant change in teacher content knowledge after previous institute sessions.

They will continue to visit participating teachers throughout the school year, going into classrooms and observing, co-teaching and even leading some lessons. They also will be available to assist with strategies to teach specific concepts that many students often find challenging, such as multiplication tables.

The Summer Math Institute has been conducted previously in Clarke, Madison, Oglethorpe and Richmond counties. This year’s institute was funded by a $70,000 federal Teacher Quality grant with additional funding from the Franklin County School District.