ELKHART — Elkhart and Concord schools recently won a grant from the Indiana Department of Education worth nearly half a million dollars.
But the schools won’t be getting stacks of cash. Instead, teachers from both school districts will be getting about $450,000 worth of “professional development” — all to learn how to teach science in a more hands-on way.
Patsy Boehler, executive director of Ethos Science Center and project director for the grant, said that since student testing focuses on math and language arts, “science takes a backseat.”
But local schools, including Elkhart and Concord, have created a five-year plan to get students more science — and to get it to them in a way that is enjoyable and kindles interest in science careers. That’s where the grant comes in.
The $450,000 pays for 40 K-8 teachers from Elkhart and Concord school districts to do training workshops. Starting this summer, these teachers will attend a two-week workshop at Ethos every year for three years.
The workshops will be taught by some Ethos staff members, but also by leaders in science education from all over the country. Graduate students from the University of Notre Dame will also help, and the academic adviser is from Purdue University Calumet.
“What (teachers) are going to learn is, how do you teach inquiry?” Boehler said. “The science we want them to teach is not from a textbook.”
Instead, teachers will learn how to encourage their students to experiment and find answers to real problems.
“Kids are natural scientists,” Boehler said. “The younger they are, the more they like to explore and investigate, and that really makes them ideal scientists.”
She stressed that it’s important for students to learn science before they reach middle school — and she thinks that once students are engaged at a young age, they might continue that interest in science as they get older.
“We haven’t groomed that part of (students), and I think it will make a big difference,” Boehler said.
Boehler also applied for the same grant for Goshen, Jimtown, and Fairfield school corporations, but that grant application was not approved. She will resubmit the grant in next year’s cycle, to hopefully get similar funding for those schools.
The ultimate goal of this project is to show students science jobs that exist here, in Elkhart County, Boehler said.
“There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity here,” she said, citing local companies like Serim Research Corporation, Agdia, NIBCO, Siemens, and Cummins Onan.
Where does the money go?
“Four hundred and fifty thousand dollars does seem like a lot of money, but it’s only $150,000 per year,” Boehler pointed out. Here’s where that grant money is going:
Pays academic advisor from Purdue Calumet
Pays for external evaluation team to come in and evaluate success of program
Pays graduate students from Notre Dame
Pays for trainers for the workshops
Pays for extended opportunities for teachers, like using Ethos’ Science 2 Go bus and robotics equipment.