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EnLiST Science Teachers Improve Pedagogy During Summer 2012 Professional Development

EnLiST teachers making gold and silver nanoparticles.
EnLiST teachers making gold and silver nanoparticles.

June 22, 2012

During the past couple of weeks, STEM teachers from around the state converged on campus. They could be found in Noyes conducting chemistry labs, performing physics experiments in the halls of Loomis Lab, and doing a host of nanotechnology activities, including working with gold and silver nanoparticles, in Mechanical Engineering Lab. Participants in EnLiST (Entrepreneurial Leadership in STEM Teaching & Learning), an NSF-funded Math Science Partnership ($5M/5 years), these teachers have been participating in intensive professional development over the last several weeks (and years) to gain cutting-edge scientific content, research experience in Illinois laboratories, and effective pedagogy with diverse learners. Participants in EnLiST, an NSF-funded Math Science Partnership ($5M/5 years), these teachers have been participating in intensive professional development over the last several weeks (and years) to gain cutting-edge scientific content, research experience in Illinois laboratories, and effective pedagogy with diverse learners. Building upon the entrepreneurial strengths of the Urbana campus, EnLiST teacher leaders have been building leadership and transformative skills with the goal of returning to their districts empowered to reform and energize STEM teaching and learning in K-12 classrooms.

The goal of EnLiST is to develop teacher leaders throughout Illinois in high need areas of physics and chemistry.  Partners on the project include: Education; Liberal Arts and Sciences; Engineering; Agricultural, Consumer and Economic Sciences; Business; Illinois Math Science Academy; Unit 4 School District, Urbana District 116, and Thornton School District. EnLiST principal investigators are Mats Selen, professor of Physics in the College of Engineering; Patricia Shapley, professor of Chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Fouad Abd-El- Khalick, Head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education; Raymond Price, professor in the Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering; and George Stanhope, administrator in the Champaign Unit 4 School District.

EnLiST teacher does a hands-on project during chemistry professional development.
EnLiST teacher performs a chemistry experiment during chemistry professional development.

Teachers who have been participating in the EnLiST professional development have found that it makes them better teachers, and gives them ideas they can use in their classrooms. Participating in EnLiST professional development for her second year, Katie Hutchison, a teacher at Urbana High who teaches ESL and Science, finds the program has changed the way she teaches.

"I absolutely love it. As a new teacher, I've noticed a lot of changes in my classroom since being in EnLiST. It's been a great source of methods and ideas to use with my students." She has also used what she has learned in EnLiST in her classroom.

Teachers wait to measure velocity of a puck the teacher in the foreground is going to send skidding down the hall.
Teachers wait to measure the velocity of a puck the teacher in the foreground is going to send skidding down the hall.

"Absolutely, I think now of science as inquiry-based, putting more of the responsibility on students to take care of their own learning. I've implememnted some activities and also collaborated with another EnLiST participant." She went on to describe a GPS project she did with her 9th–12th graders, who made an informational video on the project for the 4th grade students of the EnLiST teacher with whom she was collaborating.

Martha Henss, the STEM Coordinator of Champaign's Booker T. Washington STEM Academy (BTW), finds that the program has been very helpful for teachers; she indicates: "EnliST gives teachers a wonderful background in science and inquiry that they may not have gotten in college."

Regina Lee, also from BTW, reported that she's used what she has learned through EnLiST in her classroom.

"We had them come with the bouncy balls into our school last year for kindergarten level, and it was a fabulous experience for those kids to actually see a lliquid go into a solid, into something that they use every day—a superball. So it's an application for their real life, which is what's really important. It makes science—everything that they do—if they can apply it into their daily life, it makes it more meaningful."

Mi'chelle Frazer, who is in her second year in the program, says: "EnLiST has made me a better teacher because I, as a generalist, I did not have strong science content background...it's kind of really built me up with my confidence and my ability to implement lessons that maybe I don't have all the answers to, but the confidence to foster the discovery and exploration that is necessary in a STEM classroom."

Mi'chelle Frazer
Mi'chelle Frazer of BTW during a nanotechnology professional development session.

Frazer agrees that EnLiST professional development has helped her as a teacher take harder theory and bring it down to a level that children in her classroom can understand.

"In my classroom, you hear kids talking about friction and momentum, and the effect of gravity. You hear all of these vocabulary words that you use, but students kind of bring that back in their own language and in their own problem solving with their peers."

Frazer also believes that her students understand the principles: "We had a student in my classroom who equated friction with a stop light, and that at a yellow light you slow down, and at a red light, you stop. So that was her way—when the class wasn't really getting it—she just kind of threw out that metaphor and, of course, it resonated more with her than what I said. But just the ownership that students have over their learning, and that I'm not the disseminator of the knowledge, but that we're a team, and that we all have our own investment in learning and helping each other to learn as well."

Author/Photographer: Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative
More: EnLiST, Teacher Professional Development, 2012