The next generation of scientists is sitting in K-8 classrooms right now. A renewed grant from Chevron will help support their enthusiasm for the subject into high school and beyond.
Created by teachers, for teachers, the Chevron Summer Science Institute is a local initiative designed to help integrate interactive, scientific learning experiences into K-8 classrooms. Last summer, 24 local teachers attended the training at CMC’s Rifle campus, where they built sundials, conducted water testing and explored planetary movement — activities they’re now sharing with their students.
Building on the success of last year’s Chevron Summer Science Institute, Colorado Mountain College’s Rifle campus applied for and received a second year of funding from corporate sponsor Chevron. The $99,118 grant will help the college to train a new group of science teachers in Re-2, District 16 and De Beque to create hands-on science immersion experiences for their students.
“I’m very excited to hear that the institute was funded for a second summer because I feel that we’ll have an even greater chance of success,” said Nephi Thompson, associate professor of science. “We can have a greater impact on students’ science learning with sustained effort. Also, a two-year cycle allows me to modify the program based on the feedback I receive this year to make next year an even better experience for the teachers and their students.”
This year’s goal is to train 48 teachers, double the number reached last summer. Dr. Barbara Johnson, director of teacher education at CMC, noted that there is already a waiting list of interested candidates.
As public schools throughout the U.S. seek to improve student performance in the key areas of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM subjects), CMC’s institute offers a method of engagement that delivers real and measurable results. Before last year’s summer institute, on a pre-test given at the campus, the participating teachers scored an average of 76 percent in scientific content knowledge. By the end of the intensive training, the average score had risen to 92 percent.
Thompson said that teachers who are confident in their own scientific content knowledge do a better job of keeping students interested in the subject. “If we can help elementary and middle school teachers feel more comfortable with science, there would be more people going into math and science, which would be a great thing for our country,” he said.
“We all start out as natural scientists,” he said. “We make observations and conduct experiments out of curiosity.” The institute’s objective is to help teachers and students reconnect to the innate human urge to explore scientific ideas in an interactive way, he explained.
Teachers trained last year are now leading their students in year-long science projects, ranging from studying soil formation in a composter to observing worms, butterflies and tadpoles in natural and man-made habitats. Four teachers at Bea Underwood Elementary in Battlement Mesa — Shelly Schuckers, Sarah Billings, Lindsey Rose and Andrea Davidovich — are working in conjunction with the Division of Wildlife and the Rifle Fish Hatchery to help students understand the life cycle of trout.
In addition to the one-week, intensive summer institute, the Chevron grant underwrites the cost of substitute teachers to cover classes while the teachers selected for the institute take advantage of three professional development days throughout the school year. This allows the selected teachers to work with their colleagues to implement activities, as well as monitor student achievement.
Teachers also earn a $500 stipend, $250 toward classroom equipment and four credit hours of CMC integrated science credit. Last year’s funding helped to supply fish tanks and composters, and even a sun-tracking device to study how the angle of the sun impacts climate, energy and transportation.
“We’re eager to see the end-of-the-year results in student progress,” said Thompson. “I really respect what these teachers do. It’s an honor to support them however we can.”
“Chevron is very pleased to support the professional development of teachers through this program. Enhanced instructional skills improve student learning, engagement and excitement, especially for math and science,” said Michael DeBerry, Chevron Rocky Mountain Area manager. “We’re eager to see the effect on student progress, as well as teacher competencies.”