The key to a successful future for children may not come in the answers, but in the questions.
For the third year in a five-year research project known as Investing in Innovation, more than 400 HISD teachers in first through eighth grades are undergoing intense science training to study how children learn with inquiry-based instruction through the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s LASER i3 program.
The training involves teachers learning the material as they would eventually teach it, so they have a better understanding of how students grasp the lesson, said Kim Ottosen, the local coordinator for the Smithsonian Science Education Center and a former HISD instructional specialist. The program is being taught to approximately 9,500 students in 26 HISD schools.
As part of the two-week program taking place at Carnegie Vanguard High School, teachers are learning about topics ranging from weather and climate, life cycles, recording observations and plate tectonics, though SSEC executive director Tom Emrick says this method of instruction can be replicated in other subjects.
“We’re hearing anecdotally from teachers that the kids who are really just exploding with this are second-language kids and those who are frustrated learners,” he said. “So much text puts them off, but they have an opportunity to participate in this, so they have a reason to talk, a reason to do the math, a reason to write in their science notebook.”
The program and corresponding study should eventually lead to students becoming far more inquisitive, rather than simply reciting facts, said Emrick. By learning how to ask questions and seek out the answers, students would become more engaged and that quest for knowledge would expand to other subjects.
Throughout the year, teachers are asked to collect data for an external evaluation into how students perform. Ottosen said teachers have shared stories of students who are more engaged and score higher in classroom and standardized testing.
“For (students) to be exposed to it, you’ve already met half the battle,” said Tommie Deschenes, a 2nd-grade teacher at Patterson Elementary who has been in the study all three years. “That right there is what HISD needs: The student being exposed to the science, to the inquiry-based lessons and investigations. There’s no way you can compare that to a student opening a book and studying.”
More information about the program can be found on the Smithsonian Science Education Center’s website.