Made possible by a Math and Science Partnership grant from the South Carolina Department of Education, the STEP Into Science Teaching Program is a year long program that culminates in a week-long institute where as many as 50 teachers from across South Carolina are able to gain experience with inquiry-based instruction.
Inquiry-based instruction is a method of teaching that focuses on students’ being able to experience the concepts and ideas in a given lesson, as opposed to simply absorbing them through a lecture. Students are introduced to the concept, given tools to explore it, and are then directed to record and examine their results to see for themselves how the concept works in the real world. USC’s own Dr. Stephen Thompson and Dr. Christine Lotter are the Principal Investigators for the project, which also benefits from an ongoing partnership between the College of Education, The College of Arts and Sciences and the Colleton and Lexington County 2 school districts.
“One of the biggest impacts is getting teachers to try new strategies that engage students in collecting and analyzing data to explain the world around them; through these experiences students learn that science can be fun and interesting.”
–Christine Lotter, Co-Principal Investigator
Teacher participants come from across South Carolina, though the program has a focus on those educators serving high-needs districts. Participating teachers practice the new instructional methods with a live audience of middle school students while also receiving support from an experienced mentor. The participating students, rising sixth- through rising eighth- graders primarily from Midlands County schools, are exposed to concepts and skills that they will use in the coming year.
As beneficial as the teacher-led sessions are, it is in the teacher training sessions where the partnership really shines. Teacher training sessions consist of mixed groups of teachers and students led in learning activities by a combination of a working scientist and an experienced educator. Dave Barbeau, a geologist at USC, and Jeff Wilson, a physicist from USC are part of the teacher training sessions.
“[STEP] gets teachers out of their comfort zone and allows them to perform new techniques.”
–Skip Boone, Enrichment Instructor
While the program has just entered its tenth year, it shows no signs of slowing down, and in fact is looking to expand. Dr. Thompson, speaking as program lead, explained that the program is currently doing research into the impacts that this training has on teachers and students. Standardized testing will definitely be one of the factors they consider, but they are also weighing the idea of measuring students’ understanding of scientific processes and other long-term data.
For more information on the STEP into Science Teaching Program, visit them online.