MIST Workshop Trains Teachers in
Merit Instructional Style

Teachers perform hands-on activity during biology session.
Teachers collaborate on activity during biology session.

August 29, 2012

For three days at the beginning of August, the MIST (Merit Immersion for Students and Teachers) program hosted the MIST Summer Teacher Workshop for 52 high school and community college teachers. After being exposed to training by the directors of Illinois' Merit Program, the teachers returned home armed with new strategies and materials they themselves had developed for use in their classrooms this fall.

The workshop trained teachers to use the Merit system, which uses the collaborative learning model. This involves students working in groups to solve problems related to the material which has been presented during lectures. The Chemistry, Integrated Biology, and Mathematics departments on campus offer Merit sections for a number of courses.

Many of the teachers attended as part of a team from the same school/district. While most were from the regional area (Chicago and St Louis), a few were from farther away, including Arkansas and as far away as California.

The workshop first introduced teachers to Illinois' Merit Program and gave them the chance to experience the Merit teaching style. Teachers were then given the opportunity to discuss what aspects of the program they would like to implement in their own classrooms. Finally, they worked in groups to complete hands-on projects in biology, chemistry, or mathematics; create their own Merit-style materials; then participate in a peer review of those materials with the goal of leaving with worksheets or activites that were ready to implement in their classrooms this year.

Jennifer McNeilly works with teachers during a math breakout session.
Jennifer McNeilly works with teachers during a math breakout session.

According to Jennifer McNeilly, Director of the Mathematics Merit Program at Illinois, this years workshop was "perhaps the best one yet!" She reported that "The teachers were actively involved in all the discussions we had and all of the activities we asked them to complete. They asked really good questions throughout the workshop and appreciated the time to work with other teachers to create classroom materials. Many of them were clearly excited to hear we hope to hold a follow-up meeting this fall! We cram a lot into two and a half days and understand that it can be a bit exhausting for everyone. So we were glad to hear they were still excited at the end."

Teacher performs procedure during the chemistry breakout session.
Teacher performs procedure during the chemistry breakout session.

Workshop participants intended to use what they had learned to change their classroom instruction, particularly the way they manage learning groups. "Many teachers talked about changing the way they facilitate group work in their classroom with the intention of trying to get the students to discuss things more with each other rather than always relying on them as the teacher," reported McNeilly. "Others talked about asking more questions that lead to higher-order thinking."

Not only did teachers intend to change their own instructional methods, but hoped to impact their schools as well. According to McNeilly, "Several teams of teachers talked about going back to their school and trying to share what they learned in this workshop with other teachers to possibly even change the culture in not only their individual classrooms but possibly in the school as a whole."

Teachers in the MIST biology session discuss the next step.
Teachers in the MIST biology session discuss the next step.

Teachers were also pleased that the worshop gave them time each day to collaborate with other teachers. McNeilly reported that "They really seemed to appreciate the time to not only meet teachers from other schools and areas but also appreciated the time to work with others from their own school. Many of them expressed how hard it is to spend large chunks of time creating materials together during the school year, so they really liked the fact that we gave them work time each day. We've set up a Moodle site and hope to continue to post new resources there as well as encourage the teachers to share resources they develop throughout the year. Many teachers were excited to have the chance to keep in touch with others from the workshop and also looked forward to interacting with past workshop participants."

Gretchen Adams works with teachers during the chemistry activity session.
Gretchen Adams works with teachers during the chemistry activity session.

Regarding the workshop, McNeilly appreciated interacting with the teachers. "It was really wonderful to work with so many great teachers who are clearly dedicated to their students! It was also great to see so many of them get excited about new things they planned to try this year in the classroom!"

Story by Elizabeth Innes, Communications Specialist, I-STEM Education Initiative

Photographs by Elizabeth Innes and Christy Glaze, I-STEM Education Initiative.
More: Teacher Professional Development, 2012

MIST Teacher Workshop 2012 participants
MIST Teacher Workshop 2012 participants.