Science and math workshops give educators something to SMILE about

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KINGSTON, R.I. – July 20, 2010 – The disastrous oil spill in the Gulf certainly hasn’t given us anything to smile about. But it has given SMILE something to talk about — with students of all ages this year.

Teachers from around the state are gathering at the University of Rhode Island for the next three days to learn more about this year’s curriculum for the Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences Program (SMILE).

Through a collaborative effort with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAH) and Immersion Presents, SMILE is paying special attention to oil spills and their impact on the environment this year. While recent events clearly make it topical, development of the curriculum actually began four years ago.

“Oil spills happen more often than most people like to think about,” said Carol Englander, director of the SMILE program at URI. “We will be looking more at the clean-up process, so we can show kids how difficult it actually is. Oil does not stay in one little puddle. It moves and spreads around as the water moves, which makes it harder to contain.”

While the oil spills are the topic, the broader goal of SMILE is to make science a subject that students at all levels can relate to.

“The goal of any good science and math program is science literacy,” Englander said. “We want students to feel more at ease talking about science. That comfort level can increase their comfort level with a subject matter, and make it more interesting for them.”

A separate two-day professional development conference for middle and high school teachers will focus on developing intensive week-long lesson plans on ocean science and ocean exploration. As part of this workshop, teachers will visit URI’s Inner Space Center and get a tour from NOAH personnel. The workshop runs July 27 and 28 and is funded by NOAH.

“This is an opportunity for teachers to see what is going on in the world of ocean science,” Englander said. “We want to help them get their students excited about science. We are taking biological and physical sciences and applying them to the ocean.”

Teachers will be assigned inquiry-based online learning as part of the workshop, and will be asked to do research on specific topics. The idea is to show how hands-on science and math can be.

“This is not pencil-and-paper learning,” Englander said. “That’s what excites kids.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the SMILE program can call 401.874-2036.