Teaching Teachers About Science
Elementary educators attend a workshop to prepare to meet new
federal requirements for science instruction.
By ROBERT A. FRAHM
Courant Staff Writer
July 24 2006
Science is not her strength, but as teacher Ellen Hill sprinkled
table salt on a block of ice during a recent workshop in East
Hartford, she zeroed in on just the kind of questions a real
scientist would ask.
As the ice began to melt, she and a team of three other teachers
jotted down several possible ideas to investigate, finally settling
on a simple experiment that would test other types of salt in
order to answer the question: Which type of salt will melt ice
Hill, who teaches second- and third-graders at the Regional Multicultural
Magnet School in New London, says her students love science,
but she admits, "I always felt like it was out of my realm."
"I don't have a science background," said Hill, a veteran of
eight years of teaching and one of about 180 teachers taking
part in workshops this year run by the Connecticut Science Center.
"I have an undergraduate [degree] in child development and education
and a master's in special education."
Hill's background is not unusual, but she and many other elementary
teachers in Connecticut and across the nation soon will face
new demands to teach science as states gear up to test the subject
under the federal school reform law known as the No Child Left
Connecticut will add science to its annual mastery test in spring
of 2008. In addition, schools across the state are re-examining
their curriculums and teacher training programs to meet state
science guidelines adopted two years ago. Of particular concern
is the training of elementary teachers.
"We have serious concerns about the preparation of new classroom
teachers at the elementary level in both math and science," said
Richard C. Cole, president and CEO of the Connecticut Academy
for Education in Mathematics, Science & Technology.
"They're not being given the quantity of math and science to
be able to put them into the classroom."
A national survey in 2000 by the North Carolina firm Horizon
Research found that 77 percent of teachers in grades kindergarten
through 5 felt "very well qualified" to teach reading/language
arts, but only 14 percent felt "very well qualified" to teach
physical science, 24 percent to teach earth science and 28 percent
to teach life science.
Under Connecticut's licensing regulations, only one college science
course is required of elementary school teachers. The state is
in the process of revising regulations, and "we have recognized
... there is a need to require more course work in science, as
well as mathematics, for elementary teachers," said Nancy L.
Pugliese, head of the teacher certification bureau at the state
Department of Education.
In the meantime, to help teachers catch up, colleges, universities
and other groups are running workshops like the Connecticut Science
Center training sessions Hill attended last week at Two Rivers
Magnet Middle School in East Hartford.
The five-day workshop, supported by the General Electric Foundation,
trains educators in "inquiry-based learning," an approach designed
to tap into students' natural curiosity, teach them to become
good investigators and make science classes more fun.
The fundamental principle is to present students with materials
- such as the blocks of ice, various salts, sugar, food coloring
and measuring instruments at the training session - and then
to prod students to raise questions that can be turned into scientific
Before deciding exactly what to investigate, Hill's team practiced
the approach by dripping salt, sugar and food coloring on a block
of ice and writing questions as they observed the changes in
"It looks kind of like veins," Hill said.
"Look at it," said another teacher. "It's popping little bubbles."
Later, as they tested iodized salt, non-iodized salt, kosher
salt and sea salt on another block of ice, Hill scribbled notes
on a chart, observing the rates of melting at five-minute intervals.
The team concluded that iodized salt melted the ice fastest.
Among those attending the workshop was John Reynolds, principal
of Norwalk's Jefferson Elementary School, which will open this
fall as a magnet school with a science theme. Reynolds brought
four Jefferson teachers with him.
To get ready for the new emphasis on science, Reynolds said the
school also has brought in scientists in various fields to conduct
training sessions with teachers over the past year and a half.
Most elementary teachers, he said, "aren't trained in science
to any real depth."
Nikki Bonaventura, a fourth-grade teacher at Jefferson, said,
"We have to teach it all - earth science, physical science. We
have to do a lot of work on our own to feel comfortable with
the content and, more or less, how to get the children engaged
to want to learn science."
The workshop will help, she said.
"This is great," she said. "It's worth every second. ... We're
doing what scientists would do."
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Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant
S. E. Anderson
author- "The Black Holocaust For Beginners" a Writers and Readers