To teach her sixth-grade students about earthquakes, Sawyer Elementary School teacher Laura Gluckman wanted them to model seismic waves. So she struck a tuning fork and put it in a cup of water and students saw the water ripple — it was the energy in motion.
“It definitely cemented those ideas and those concepts for them more than just a lecture would,” she said.
The hands-on experiment is just one of many things Gluckman has learned from the Museum of Science and Industry’s program that teaches middle school educators to better instruct their students in science class.
It’s a program that works, according to a newly released study conducted by the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University and commissioned by the museum.
The study tested teachers participating in the program as well as teachers not participating and both group’s students. It found the museum’s program directly affects a teacher’s science knowledge.
The students of teachers participating in the museum’s program also did better in the study’s tests and had a better understanding of the scientific concepts and how they apply in real life, according to the study.
“We know what they’re doing works,” said William Schmidt, a professor of statistics and education at Michigan State University and the lead author of the study, which was funded by the Boeing Co.
The museum started offering classes in 2006, and since then, 804 teachers from 300 schools have participated. More than 60 percent of the teachers work for Chicago Public Schools.
Teachers apply to the program — which rotates the courses of life science, earth science, environmental science and physical science — and can spend an entire academic year participating in it or they can enroll in an intensive summer course, said Nicole Kowrach, the museum’s director of teaching and learning.
The teachers, who teach fourth to eighth grades, learn about the science and how best to teach it, but they also get the equipment necessary to replicate the lessons in the classroom.
It can be big-ticket item such as a microscope or it could be materials used in day-to-day activities, like eye droppers, Kowrach said. The museum provides the classes and materials at no cost to the teachers and also pays for a substitute for a teacher when she is attending classes at the museum.
The museum plans to add a space science course to its roster and plans to teach 1,000 teachers in the next five years, Kowrach said.
“We’re really excited about this study because it helps demonstrate in a very scientific way that what we’re doing is having an impact,” she said.
Science, technology, engineering and math classes, often referred to as STEM , have been a priority for Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Beth Swanson, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff for education, praised the museum’s program and said the city hopes to triple the number of students with “STEM credentials” by 2018.
While she wouldn’t detail any new initiatives, city officials have made some changes recently.
For instance, last year CPS made computer science a core subject.