If there's one thing that Averett faculty understand, it's that the more real-world experience their students have, the better they are prepared for boldly pursuing a career upon graduation. Many of the majors require internships and others provide hands-on opportunities in class. This semester, education majors in Dr. Patti Horne's mathematics and science methods for elementary educators class were tasked with creating problem-based learning units (PBL). A daunting task all by itself, but the students also had to present their projects at a state conference at the end of the semester.
"I challenged them to come up with a real world solution to a real world problem," said Horne, assistant professor of education. "They had to pick the school district and the grade they were creating the project for. Their goal was to teach above the SOLs, but still include them. I am quite proud of them. They're trying to change the way science is taught."
After a long semester of research and preparation, nine students headed to Roanoke Nov. 18-19 to present their projects at The Virginia Association of Science Teachers (VAST) Conference at the Hotel Roanoke. In attendance were district science coordinators, district gifted education coordinators and science educators from around the state. The PBL units they presented covered a variety of topics from litter, stinkbugs, the near extinction of lemurs and the impact of a new factory on its surrounding environment.
The PBL units they designed crossed over into other areas such as mathematics and English. "It also teaches them social skills and how to work together and to compromise," said Linda Yates, whose project looked at how to help the lemur.
One of the things the units teach is how to solve problems. "I like that you don't give the students the information, that they have to discover it themselves," said Sara Campbell. Her unit looked at human influences, specifically a factory, on the environment. "It shows students math and science in a new way; it's not the same way it's always been done."
"We're searching for the information with them," said Rebecca Moore, who created a PBL around litter and it's effect on the environment. "This shows them there is not always a right answer and that it's okay to search for answers. I think students will like this. It's structured freedom and it shows them their strengths.
"It's also good for teachers because it gives you a sense there is more than one way to teach."
"The students learned that although they are new to the field, they are learning the most up-to-date information and are actually leaders on how to implement PBL in the classroom," said Horne, who is a member of the Virginia Science Educators Leadership Association (VSELA).
"Presenting at a state conference provided our students the opportunity to see how important continued professional development is for teachers," Horne said. "It also allowed our students to network - they met Dr. Eric Rhoades, science coordinator for Virginia and many other key figures in science education. Having a state presentation on their résumé will help our students stand out from a pool of potential job applicants."
As a result of the conference, Horne and the students were asked to provide professional development on PBL to middle school science teachers in Danville Public Schools.
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