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Countywide : UCI Project to Train Science Teachers

Science professors from eight Orange County colleges are launching a summer pilot project to show elementary, junior and senior high school teachers how to better present science to children.

The project is funded by a $115,000 grant from the state Legislature to UC Irvine and is expected to include teachers from at least half a dozen Orange County school districts, said Mare Taagepera, a UCI science lecturer.

Such training is critically important if children are to be educated in the fast-changing fields of science and the United States and California are to remain technologically competitive in the 21st Century, education authorities contend. In recent years, fewer U.S. students have sought advanced degrees and careers in mathematics and the sciences, fields that increasingly are being dominated by foreign students.

The goal of the four-week summer program for teachers is to ensure that “the child in the classroom would have a continuous, coherent science curriculum from kindergarten (through four years of college), which is something we really haven’t done very well,” Taagepera said.

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The result is that students enter college with “significant gaps” in their knowledge of science, and this forces a greater emphasis on remedial instruction, she said.

Part of the problem, say Orange County science and mathematics instructors, is that many teachers being asked to handle such classes have had no special training.

“Not all teachers have the background they need (in science and mathematics), particularly elementary-school teachers,” said Taagepera, who has operated summer science programs for teachers for eight years at UCI.

Consortium members include Cal State Fullerton, Chapman College, Cypress College and several other community colleges.

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“We are the lead institution this year, but we’re hoping to expand with an institute at (Cal State) Fullerton next summer as well as at Chapman (College) and UCI,” she said. “There are so many teachers in the area that need to be trained.”

The pilot project will draw teachers from at least six school districts representing elementary, middle and high school grade levels. Teachers and college instructors will be organized into groups that would continue working after the summer session, which begins July 30.

The $115,000 is expected to pay for teacher stipends and materials.

“What we’re really trying to do now is form a coordinated network for all of Orange county,” Taagepera said. “We’re trying to make sure that every (school) district ultimately is connected, and that we can all work together to improve science education.”

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