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Educating Educators

Fund renewal for the Physical Science by Inquiry Program gives K-12 teachers a chance to learn physics from UC professors—and apply their new knowledge in their own classrooms.

Date: 5/28/2010
By: Kim Burdett
Phone: (513) 556-8577
Physics Professor Robert Endorf has been program director of the Physical Science by Inquiry Program, a professional development course, since its creation in 1996. A partnership of the Department of Physics in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services at the University of Cincinnati, the free, four-week course aims to help educate teachers in grades 5-12 on scientific content and teaching skills. The program has been so successful that the Ohio Board of Regent has recently awarded Endorf a renewal grant of $105,119.

Robert Endorf.
Robert Endorf, seen here with two K-12 educators, is the director of UC's Physical Science by Inquiry Program.

What is the goal of the Physics by Inquiry Program?

The ultimate goal of our Physics by Inquiry Program is to improve student learning and achievement for middle school and high school students in physical science. We are doing this by providing science teachers in grades 5-12 with an inquiry-based research validated professional development program in physical science.

Our goals for the teachers in the program are to increase their understanding of basic physics concepts and to develop the scientific reasoning skills needed to apply these concepts to their classroom teaching. During the program each teacher designs two inquiry science lessons that they will teach to their students. During the academic year the teachers maintain a portfolio evaluating their progress as an inquiry teacher and of the students in their classrooms.

The program, a free, four-week workshop for K-12 teachers, focuses on scientific concepts and reasoning skills.

What are some of the topics covered in the summer workshops?

Our Physics by Inquiry courses use modules developed by Lillian McDermott and the Physics Education Group at the University of Washington. These modules consist of hands-on inquiry-based activities which have been designed to develop scientific reasoning skills and to provide practice in relating scientific concepts, representations and models to real world phenomena.

The topics covered are properties of matter, astronomy, electric circuits and kinematics. The basic concepts for these topics are covered in depth, with an emphasis on concept development and the reasoning skills necessary to carry out scientific inquiry, critical thinking and problem solving. I have been collaborating with the University of Washington to evaluate new activities within these topics and in pilot testing a new module on forces.

Robert Endorf and teachers.
The program, which has been active since 1996, was recently refunded by the Ohio Board of Regents.

How does it help science teachers?

We use extensive pretesting and post-testing of the teachers to evaluate our program. The results of the evaluations demonstrate that the program has been very successful in increasing the teachers’ content knowledge in physics, ability to use scientific reasoning, and ability to design and teach inquiry-based science lessons in their classrooms.

Approximately 90 percent of the teachers have reported that their students are more attentive, enthusiastic and involved in classroom activities, and that the quality of student work in their classrooms has improved. The teachers completing the program have been very enthusiastic in implementing inquiry-based science lessons and have strongly supported our program.

Why is it important that UC (with co-sponsor Cincinnati Public Schools) is a part of this program?

It is important that universities take a role in improving the education of all students. Our physics department is a member of the Physics Teacher Education Coalition, which is network of institutions committed to improving the education of physics and physical science teachers.

There is a crucial need to improve K-12 science education in the state of Ohio, particularly in urban regions such as Cincinnati. This is not only to properly prepare students for future careers in science, engineering, technology and medicine, but also to produce scientifically literate citizens.

By partnering with school districts such as Cincinnati Public Schools, UC can provide the expertise through their faculty to offer programs like our Physics by Inquiry Program to upgrade the knowledge and skills of the K-12 in-service teachers in these school districts.

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