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Chester County school districts share in $5.1 million statewide math and science grant

Downingtown, PA – Are the future scientists who will one day change space travel or find the cure for cancer 3-Region Math and Science Partnership Photositting in a Chester County classroom today? The United States Department of Education is doing more than hoping the answer is yes. It is taking steps to ensure the answer is yes by awarding a $5.1 million grant to sharpen the mathematics and science skills of today’s teachers in order to provide better instruction in the classroom.

Over 200 teachers from 17 school districts throughout Pennsylvania, including two districts in Chester County, are participating in a three-year project aimed at improving student performance in math and science by boosting teachers’ knowledge and teaching skills in these subjects.

The project kicked off this past summer and included a three-day seminar at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and a weeklong training institute at Immaculata University in Frazer, Pennsylvania.

According to Dr. David Morgan, project co-director, teachers are getting a lot of support from nationally renowned experts in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries, also commonly known as STEM.

“Partnerships have been formed at many levels not just at the school level,” said Morgan. “The National Science Foundation, the Goddard Space Flight Center, the Chester County Intermediate Unit, four Pennsylvania universities, and the Pennsylvania STEM Initiative are all providing support, training, resources and materials for the program.”

According to Morgan, the grant, which is being administered through the Chester County Intermediate Unit, targets schools whose students are struggling in math and science as identified through students’ scores on the Pennsylvania State System of Assessment (PSSA). In addition, schools with a significant percentage of students who receive a free or reduced lunch, a typical indicator that a school has a high percentage of students from low-income families, also have been invited to participate in the initiative.

The first part of the project required teachers to attend one of three, three-day sessions at the Goddard Space Flight Center. The sessions included presentations from NASA scientists and engineers, tours of the center, and the opportunity to view data from earth-observing satellites.

The end of July marked the second mandatory portion of the project – a weeklong institute at Immaculata University that focused on subject knowledge and teaching skills, enhanced by Web 2.0 tools and technology.

“Since increasing student math and science knowledge is necessary, I felt as if I should use this opportunity to increase my own knowledge and skills,” said Barbara March, elementary math coordinator for the Coatesville Area School District, and math support teacher for Reeceville Elementary School. “The project teaches the teachers who will then pass down the knowledge to their students.”

Professors from Bucknell University, Immaculata University, Lycoming College and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg facilitated workshops that teachers also count towards Act 48 continuing education hours or six graduate credits at a reduced cost.

In addition, a representative from the Goddard Space Flight Center provided training on the Geodome and Star Lab Planetarium that will travel to participating school districts, and an Apple expert trained teachers on classroom uses of the iPad.

Although the summer activities have all been completed, the real work has just begun now that school is back in session.

“Participants and their students will be tested multiple times throughout the project to monitor areas of improvement as well as deficiency,” said Morgan. “We will also be randomly interviewing project stakeholders to ensure we are accomplishing what we said we would accomplish.”

In order to attend the program, teachers had to agree to remain in contact with a regional coordinator and coach, and must attend regional training sessions, present two instructional units, and be evaluated by the project’s facilitators.

A total of 80 teachers from the eastern region will attend monthly meetings to review their progress and receive additional training. Meetings will take place at the Chester County Intermediate Unit’s Educational Service Center in Downingtown and the Austin Meehan Middle School in Philadelphia from 4:30 until 7:30 p.m. on the following dates: September 21, October 19, November 16, January 18, February 15, March 15, April 26, and May 17.

In addition, teachers must attend a three-day Goddard Space Flight Center seminar and a weeklong institute at Immaculata University in July 2011 and July 2012.

“The project has been a great experience so far and I can already tell that it’s changing the way I teach,” said Kerri Cupstid, fourth grade teacher at Rainbow Elementary School in Coatesville. “I can’t wait to take what I have learned into the classroom and watch students’ eyes light up when their interest has been peaked in ways it has never been before.”

Pictured above (seated from left to right) is: Jennifer Parks, teacher at Francis Hopkinson School in Philadelphia; Carrie Kehoe-Ryan, teacher at Sacred Heart School in Oxford; and Shawna Newton, teacher at Francis Hopkinson School working with Mollie Jones, Ph.D. (standing), assistant professor of mathematics and computer science at Immaculata University, during a recent project follow-up session at Immaculata.