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Willow Springs Elementary Teachers Learn New Ways to Teach Science

Next fall, students in Fairfax will join a growing movement of innovative science achievement and learning in Virginia. Teachers from Willow Springs Elementary were selected to join a year-long, free professional development project designed to change the way science is taught in schools across the state.

Funded by one of the biggest grants ever awarded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) teaches teachers how to shift from the traditional lecture-led classroom to problem-based learning. Problem-based learning is about examining “real world” problems and thinking like scientists to find solutions.

Ashley Hart, Michele Panczyszyn and Christine Phalon attended the Elementary Science Institute on the George Mason University campus, which ran from June 26 to July 24. This year’s theme was marine science.

As part of the institute, Fairfax-area students attended a free, two-week camp, which ran July 7 - 18. The embedded student camps give teachers a chance to practice the hands-on approach they are learning.

In addition to the free, four-week program, each teacher receives a $5,000 stipend; $1,000 in teaching resources, science materials, and web content for their classrooms; a master teacher assigned to coach them in the new teaching method throughout the school year; and a trip to the Virginia Association of Science Teachers Professional Development Institute in the fall.