By Collin Brooks
A group of teachers were hanging out by the water just days into summer break, but they were actually working.
Close to 110 elementary, middle and high school teachers from 11 school districts filled area waterways on Thursday afternoon, as part of the third annual SLICE project — Science Literacy in Education.
The middle school group explored the waterway behind the Millennium Centre, wading in Brush Creek off State of Franklin Road. The group of 60 teachers circled through three stations, using technology and paper and pencil, to look at different aspects of the stream.
“We integrated math, science and language arts, through problem-solving based learning,” said ETSU assistant professor Dr. Laura Robertson, who was overseeing the middle school group. “We are looking at ways to integrate the subjects for a richer and deeper understanding. This year we added a problem-based learning component to try and help the teachers incorporate real world scenarios for their kids.
“We hope that will be more engaging and motivating to the students because they are solving some sort of problem.”
The initiative is funded through three grants totaling more than $800,000 awarded to ETSU, Hawkins County School District and the Northeast Tennessee STEM Hub. The funds help to support continued efforts to increase teacher quality in science and literacy education. It was a joint effort by the Clemmer College of Education, Center for Excellence and the College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Robertson said.
The teachers were equipped with GoPros, iPads, Ricoh THETA cameras to document their experience and in the afternoon they made movies and used Lego StoryVisualizer to make stories to communicate with the public about the value and status of a local stream.
The focus on technology is to help the teachers learn the technology, which educators think will help keep students engaged and they will take more ownership over their learning.
The elementary teachers spent the day at Hands-On! while high school teachers traveled to South Holston Dam.
Jennifer Hill, a 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Ridgeview, is in her third year of attending the professional development course and said she has enjoyed it each year.
“I love it,” Hill said. “The biggest thing that I like is the networking of the teachers. I get to work with the teachers from Washington County but I also get to work with teachers from other school systems.”
Hill said the teachers will continue their networking through the year and have the ability to share lesson plans and have a support group with one another. She said it is helpful for teachers to learn the technology, so they can use it in their classrooms as a tool to keep students interested.
Chris Bowen, an 8th grade Science teacher at Liberty Bell Middle School, is in his second year of the program and said it is something that he enjoys.
“It’s awesome,” Bowen said, noting the networking with the teachers from around the region. “A lot of time teachers think they only need to focus on their subject, but this type of professional development shows that we are all working toward the same goal of making our kids literate in all subject areas, not just our content areas.”
The theme of this year’s initiative is water. Lectures and activities for all participants will center around the topic of water and its relevance in science, math and literature curricula. In addition to exercises where they will receive standardized materials to take to their classrooms, teachers will also participate in field experiences in local waterways.
The institute is led by Keith and Dr. Chih-Che Tai, assistant director of the ETSU Center of Excellence in Mathematics and Science Education. Grant funding is provided by the Tennessee Department of Education Math and Science Partnership program and the Tennessee Higher Education Commission Improving Teacher Quality Program.
The teachers will have the opportunity to present their findings to their administrators during the last day of the course on Friday.