KINGSTON, R.I. – September 19, 2012 – More than 200 public school teachers returned to the classroom this fall with a greater enthusiasm for teaching hands-on science lessons, thanks to the Rhode Island Technology Enhanced Science Project (RITES), a partnership between the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College that offered summer short courses designed to expand teacher knowledge of science and share strategies for incorporating it into their curriculum.
The teachers will gather again Oct. 13, along with others in the state’s science education community, for a roundtable event at URI designed to focus on the challenges of science education. The roundtable, part of the RITES Fall Conference, will feature author and veteran science teacher Betsy Rupp Fulwiler, leader of the reform of the Seattle public schools, who will showcase science education success stories in Rhode Island schools.
This was the fourth summer the short courses have been offered as a result of a $12.5 million grant that URI and RIC received in 2008 from the National Science Foundation to launch the RITES program. Led by URI Professor Daniel Murray and RIC Professor Glennison de Oliveira, the program has already helped 450 middle school and high school teachers in 27 school districts in Rhode Island gain skills and confidence in teaching hands-on science lessons.
“Many teachers don’t feel comfortable doing inquiry-based science because it takes more time and it requires a deeper level of knowledge,” said Howard Dooley, who manages the program. “The education landscape in Rhode Island is changing very quickly, so to add RITES into the mix requires that teachers make a big commitment. But we’re finding that many really want to make that commitment.”
The program offers teachers two years of professional development, including summer short courses, opportunities to come together to share ideas, and the use of free online modules to use with their students that have been developed by a higher education faculty member paired with a secondary education science teacher.
“Pairing higher-ed faculty with K-12 teachers has been eye opening for everyone,” said Amber Gilfert, communications coordinator for the program. “By getting them to work together to develop a classroom investigation, they form personal relationships and then can better understand each other’s world. We’re starting to bridge that gap.”
“That relationship is really the core of the program,” added Dooley. “The faculty member brings the science knowledge and the teacher brings the pedagogical knowledge. Together they create an investigation that is technically accurate, interesting to the students, and based on science standards.”
According to RITES teacher Buddy Comet, who taught at John F. Deering Middle School in West Warwick and now serves as an induction coach at the Rhode Island Department of Education, RITES has been instrumental in several ways.
“One of the main benefits for my students has been the in-class collaboration with RITES and higher education,” he said. “Through RITES, we have had multiple visits from professors and graduate students to extend the student’s learning and experiences. Our class has also been involved in educational research through RITES, so we were able to be part of science instead of just learning about science. This collaboration has broadened our access to scientific and technological resources, materials and people to expand students’ learning opportunities.”
Teachers receive a $1,000 stipend for participating in RITES each year, plus $700 for equipment for their classroom and three graduate credits from RIC.
“The T in RITES stands for technology,” said Dooley. “We know that technology is not used in the classroom as much as it should be, and that’s partly because teachers and students don’t understand how certain technologies can be incorporated in the classroom. But technology is used by scientists every day. So part of our job is providing support directly to school districts to make sure the technology works and teachers are comfortable using it.”
Those interested in learning more about the RITES program or who would like to attend the roundtable event invited to visit www.ritesproject.net or contact Amber Gilfert at 401-874-4071 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Teachers Andres Castro (left) from Hope Arts School and Shubhra Nandi from Hope Information Technology School, both in Providence, participate in a hands-on science education workshop for educators sponsored by the Rhode Island Technology Enhanced Science Project.