FHSU instructs Kansas teachers on Next Generation Science Standards

08/06/15
By Diane Gasper-O'Brien
University Relations and Marketing
Teachers in southwest Kansas school districts usually have to travel a lot of miles for professional development opportunities.

However, thanks to a grant proposal written by Fort Hays State University and administered by the Kansas State Department of Education, numerous K-12 instructors in that area of the state have been spending time in the classroom the past couple of weeks, learning how to teach the new multi-state education standards released two years ago.

A group of 26 states -- Kansas being one of them -- developed Next Generation Science Standards for teaching in the United States in an effort to develop greater interest in science. Kansas was one of 13 states to adopt the standards.

Faculty from Fort Hays State University's College of Education and Technology and the College of Arts and Sciences successfully wrote three grant proposals that supported workshops on the new standards this summer. In addition to a workshop held at the Southwest Plains Service Center in Sublette, similar programs also were held in Wichita and Topeka.

The total of the grants was $421,243, with the option of the two U.S. Department of Education Mathematics and Science Partnerships grants that supported the workshops in Wichita and Topeka being renewable for up to two additional years.

The final workshop ended Friday at the Southwest Plains Service Center.

Kim Mauk, superintendent of Rolla USD 217, a small school district in Morton County, the farthest southwest county in the state, said she "jumped on this opportunity when I saw it."

"The teachers have heard about the new science standards," she said, "but this allows them to see firsthand what this all means."

The workshops are designed to address K-12 Next Generation of Science Standards. These standards involve modeling instruction, where students learn science through discovery and lab activities rather than lectures or PowerPoint presentations.

"We had really good participation," said Mauk, who signed up nine of her teachers for the workshop. "Even my kindergarten teacher thought, 'How can I make this connection with what I'm doing in the classroom?' "

The intensive two-week workshops are designed to better prepare teachers at the elementary level to teach the Next Generation Science Standards, thus raising student capabilities in science and math.

"We teach the teachers, and the secondary effect is the students," said Dr. Paul Adams, dean of the College of Education and Technology and director of the FHSU Science and Mathematics Institute.

"These are great partnerships to help school districts across the state," said Adams, also a professor of physics and the Anschutz Professor of Education. "I think all the teachers left with more confidence to teach physical science."

Adams and former FHSU faculty member Dr. Adam Holden were in charge of the workshop "Engineering Our Future" in the Topeka school district.

"Hopefully this will better prepare teachers at the elementary level to teach the new science standards," said Dr. Keith Dreiling, associate professor of mathematics and computer science, one of the FHSU faculty who worked the Topeka workshop.

"It also creates a partnership between us and the teachers," Dreiling said. "I have quite a bit of science in my background, but I learned a lot about the new things, too."

Adams was also the principal investigator on the project "Training Opportunity to Integrating Math Practices Related to Elementary Science Standards," whose lead agency was Wichita USD 259.

Dr. Eric Deyo, assistant professor of physics, taught at two of the three workshops, in Wichita and at the southwest Kansas one, which was led by Dr. Beth Walizer, an associate professor of teacher education at FHSU.

"We want them to learn how to do this and take it back to the schools," Walizer said. "We decided we would take the professional development to them. It was definitely easier access for them."

Adams, in his 22nd year at Fort Hays State, is a guru at writing grant proposals. He said he generally works on four to six proposals a year, but this is the first time he has been involved with three grants being awarded at the same time.

"Sometimes you're a winner, sometimes you're a loser," he said.

This time, a whole lot of teachers around Kansas -- and students as well -- came out winners.

All three of this summer's projects involve follow-ups throughout the coming school year to track teachers' progress.

"I think these are great partnerships," Adams said, "to help school districts across the state."

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