|Robyn Carlin, a master teacher from the GeauxTeach Program at Louisiana State University, teaches University of the Virgin Islands Junior University students.|
Inquiry-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning that places questions, ideas and observations of students at the center of the learning experience. Educators play an active role throughout the process by establishing a culture where ideas are respectfully challenged, tested, redefined and viewed as improvable. This moves children from a position of wondering to a position of understanding and further questioning.
“This has been one of the better workshops that I have attended,” says Nneka Howard-Sibilly, Charlotte Amalie High School biology teacher and Science Department chair. “Walking away from it, I have a lot of tangible information that I can utilize in my classroom right away and be able to help other teachers.”
She says that this workshop has gotten her closer to her goal of having tools on how to make her classroom more inquiry-based and geared toward the Common Core Standards and the Next Generation Standards set to come on-line.
Fourth grade Lockhart Elementary School teacher Diana Tyson signed up for the workshop because she has a strong love for science and mathematics. “It has been extremely informative,” says Tyson. “I am learning a great deal about inquiry-based learning and letting the students explore and learn through their own investigations.” Tyson, who has taught for 15 years, was named Teacher of the Year in the St. Thomas-St. John District in the 2013-2014 School Year.
“It will definitely, I hope, increase and improve not only teacher effectiveness, but student achievement,” she says. “We are learning strategies that we can use to help better implement what is expected of our students from the Common Core State Standards.”
“This was a tremendous workshop,” says St. Croix Educational Complex High School mathematics teacher Dianne Theophilus. “The information that has been shared will assist me in becoming a better mathematics educator. I will also be able to use what I've learnt to assist my colleagues.”
UVI Teach is a secondary STEM teacher training program being developed at the University. It is a joint effort between the UVI College of Science and Mathematics, the School of Education and the V.I. Department of Education (VI DOE). It is adapted from the UTeach Program, a nationally recognized, innovative, and successful teacher preparation program for students majoring in science, mathematics, and computer science. The UTeach program was developed at the University of Texas, Austin, in 1997. Thirty-nine other universities around the country are now implementing the program. The UVI Teach program places emphasis on field-based, hands-on learning opportunities for future STEM teachers. “Since 2011, Provost McKayle has been leading this Noyce project to make UVI one of the pioneering HBCUs to implement a UTeach program,” said UVI Teach Program Director Dr. Celil Ekici.
Conducting the UVI STEM Teacher’s Workshop was a pivotal step towards launching the UVI Teach program. UVI and the VI DOE collaborated to bring this workshop to educators in the territory. Robyn Carlin, a master teacher from the GeauxTeach Program at Louisiana State University, taught inquiry-based teaching in mathematics, while Lynn Kirby, a master teacher from UTeach at Austin, taught science. They alternated teaching on the St. Thomas Campus and Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix, switching campuses one week into the training. UVI Associate Professor of Education Dr. Nancy Morgan helped to demonstrate the integration of various content areas, including literacy. VI DOE STEM Director Karissa Poszywak served as co-trainer to make content more relevant for STEM teachers in the territory.
“The overall goals are to help teachers experience inquiry-based learning in action and learn to apply it in their own practices as math and science teachers,” says Dr. Ekici. “They will learn to orient UVI Teach students coming to their classroom towards learning and facilitating inquiry-based lessons as future STEM teachers.”
During a workshop session in July 2014, educators were able to observe Carlin as she taught mathematics to middle school boys who were a part of UVI’s Junior University Summer Enrichment Program. Carlin used a variety of 3D foam shapes to teach students how to understand fractions and turn those fractions into mathematical word problems and equations. The students, working in four groups of four, actively participated in their own learning. While the students learned mathematics, the UVI Tech Workshop participants observed the lesson.
Dr. Ekici says the practice session was intended to allow participants to gain a deeper sense of inquiry-based STEM learning and teaching in practice. “It was intended to provide students and practitioners with a rich and genuine experience to build their own local practices for the inquiry-based STEM teaching/learning in our territorial schools,” he says.
Nneka Howard-Sibilly has asked that teachers be able to observe an inquiry-based lesson for some time. “It is one thing to say what an inquiry-based system is supposed to look like, but when you can actually see somebody stand in front of you and model it in front of live students – to be able to see the responses of students and observe the differences in questioning – I think that is what teachers need to see more of in order to better themselves,” she says.
UVI Works to Implement UVI Teach Program
The UVI Teach Program is being developed under the leadership of UVI Provost Dr. Camille McKayle, UVI Dean of the School of Education Dr. Linda Thomas and Dean of the School of Science and Mathematics Dr. Sandra Romano. Dr. Ekici is spearheading this collaborative effort. It is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and is part of the Robert Noyce Capacity Building Grant designed to develop and implement a secondary STEM teacher training program at UVI. Noyce Capacity Building Projects provide an opportunity for institutions to establish the infrastructure and partnerships for implementing a future Noyce Teacher Scholarship or NSF Teaching Fellowship. This grant had two major goals. One is to develop UVI Teach as a STEM teacher preparation program building on the basics of the UTeach model. Second, is conducting STEM education research to provide research-based and locally effective STEM education training programs. Several UVI professors are part of the UVI Teach collaborative team including, Dr. Ekici, Dr. Steven Greenstein, Dr. Nancy Morgan, Dr. Michelle Peterson, Dr. Marc Boumedine, Dr. Rita Howard, Dr. Judith Bloch and Ms. Danielle DeGain. They are under the supervision of Provost McKayle.
UVI Teach is integrating inquiry-based learning activities into UVI's developmental mathematics classes including, Mathematics 023 and 024 and introductory science courses such as Science 100, with peers, mentors, and master teachers trained to use the 5Es of inquiry based learning. The 5Es are engagement, exploration, explanation, elaboration and evaluation.
The 5 E Learning Cycle Model
- Object, event or question used to engage students
- Connections facilitated between what students know and can do
ExplorationUVI Teach St. Thomas Site Coordinator Dr. Marc Boumedine says that when the program is implemented, students interested in teaching STEM subjects will receive a bachelor’s degree in their field and be able to teach secondary education, once they have met the requirements of the School of Education and the Virgin Islands Board of Education. He says this program will allow UVI STEM students who wish to become educators to finish their degrees sooner.
- Objects and phenomena are explored
- Hands-on activities, with guidance
- Students explain their understanding of concepts and processes
- New concepts and skills are introduced as conceptual clarity and cohesion are sought
- Activities allow students to apply concepts in contexts, and build on or extend understanding and skill
- Students assess their knowledge, skills and abilities.
- Activities permit evaluation of student development and lesson effectiveness