BOWLING GREEN STATE UNIVERSITY


BGSU project to make physics elementary

Kids are fascinated by magnets and the springs often found in their toys.

A BGSU project aims to put more of those things in the hands of the youngest schoolchildren by helping their teachers think of ways to make science more exciting for them.

Research-based Inquiry Physics Experiences (RIPE) is one of 22 science and mathematics education projects statewide to receive funding through the federal Improving Teacher Quality Program. The Ohio Board of Regents recently released more than $2.8 million for projects in higher-need Ohio schools, including $133,549 for RIPE.

“Research-based inquiry” refers, in this case, to researching what classroom approaches work with students in preschool through third grade, and now teaching their teachers those strategies, said project director Dr. Tracy Huziak-Clark, School of Teaching and Learning.

Huziak-Clark explained that she and her collaborator, Dr. Stephen Van Hook, physics and astronomy, have been studying young students’ understanding of scientific concepts, based on hands-on learning, conceptual hooks such as songs and phrases, and movements and physical activities.

They will share information about content as well as what they’ve learned about teaching, she added. Physics content in Ohio’s state standards for early childhood education focuses on sound and light, forces and motion, magnetism, astronomy and energy, she noted. For example, she said, the standards require that students gain some understanding of energy, so lifting items can help demonstrate how it is transferred from food to exercise, and a spring is useful for a discussion of how energy enters, is stored and leaves an object.

“Historically, teachers of kindergarten through third grade do not have physics as part of their preparation and, therefore, feel less prepared for the physical science Ohio standards,” said Huziak-Clark. “We are hoping that this project will help teachers learn physical science concepts and be excited and comfortable teaching them in the fall.”
Up to 40 teachers may participate in RIPE, which will open with a two-week institute this summer. Teachers from Bowling Green, Wood County, Washington Local, Findlay City and Sandusky County schools will have first priority for the available spots. Any unfilled spaces will then be offered throughout northwest Ohio.

Participants will receive a kit of materials—including magnets and toys with springs—to take back to their classrooms, along with four graduate credit hours from BGSU. All of the teachers must then develop and implement a weeklong unit based on what they learn. That will be among the topics of discussion at three follow-up meetings next fall.

“We’re very excited,” said Huziak-Clark about the professional development project. “Let’s have a little fun and learn something at the same time.”

January 29, 2007