Video Series Reveals How i3 Science Project is Unfolding

Want to get a firsthand look at how elementary school teachers in Virginia are changing the way they view science and how they teach it because of an Investing in Innovation (i3) grant? You can by tuning in to the VISTA Voices: Inside the Elementary Program video series. Teachers from across the state attended summer institutes where they worked with students, gained hands-on practice using new teaching methods, and made plans for implementing new approaches, both individually and as school-based teams — all part of the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA).

Elementary teacher Kelcie Conroy explains how the VISTA summer institute helped her to regain an excitement for science and dramatically change how she plans for and teaches science units in her 5th-grade classroom.

By the end of the four-week-long summer experience, Kelcie Conroy, an elementary general classroom teacher in Prince William County, reported that she dramatically changed both how she viewed science and how she taught it in her 5th-grade classroom. And science became the favorite subject of her students the year following her summer institute experience. In this video about her VISTA participation, Conroy explains how she learned that she wasn’t the only person in the classroom with ideas. The hands-on, student-centered, project-based approach of VISTA, that included classroom simulations with elementary school students, allowed her to see opportunities for her students to think, analyze, and justify their thinking over just looking for the right answer.

Students, teachers, and principals who attended the VISTA “summer camp” at Virginia Commonwealth University reflect on what the 20-day experience meant to them and their schools.

The video series, which began this past summer and has expanded to 29 entries, also features the voices of the students who participated in the summer institutes. In the “wrap-up” of the program this  summer at Virginia Commonwealth University, one of five higher education institutes partnering with i3 project leader George Mason University, students tell what they learned about renewable energy sources, as well as the ways that teaming up with their peers can lead to more solutions than thinking alone about a problem.

Viewers can also see the interaction between teachers and students, as in this video of teacher Greg Stallings of J.L. Francis Elementary School in Richmond City and students, who explored the possibilities of using bio mass from their school’s cafeteria as an alternative energy source for classroom lighting. Stallings and several other elementary teachers from across the state were followed by video crews to document their experiences at the summer institutes, along with the insights of the participating students, university advisors, and principals, such as Sandra Crowder of Randolph Elementary in Goochland County, who credited the VISTA initiative with “getting kids excited about learning; getting [them] authentically involved, communicating, and finding out what the real world is all about.”

Back in the classroom, Arlington County teacher Laura Hansen and her 5th-grade students at Nottingham Elementary School employed the VISTA strategies she learned to consider the plight of ocean turtles in Virginia. Hansen expanded an oceanography unit with a hands-on project that resulted in lots of student-generated solutions and a class presentation to school, district, and community science experts, documented in this Green Scene video.

“Inquiring minds want to know,” according to teacher Greg Stallings. VISTA student campers give their ideas for alternative sources of energy to power their schools.

The VISTA Elementary Science Institute has served more than 250 elementary school teachers to date. Other components of the i3 Validation grant include coaching and research-based teaching coursework for secondary science teachers, as well as a statewide academy for district-level science coordinators and a science education college faculty academy. The four components are designed to build a statewide infrastructure that provides sustained, intensive science teacher professional development in more than 80 school districts statewide. The VISTA Voices video series accomplishes one of the two project objectives — documenting the implementation of the teacher professional development components of the project. The other objective — tracking and assessing the extent to which VISTA promotes positive outcomes for teachers and students — is being determined through use of randomized controlled studies of schools and teachers either participating or not in the professional development initiative.

OII’s i3 fund supports innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement or student growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates. Last month, OII announced the 25 highest-rated applicants for grants in the current fourth round of i3. Watch this space for a final announcement of the 2014 i3 grantees on or about December 31.