APSU’s Center for Rural Education serving teachers in Houston and Humphreys counties
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – To stage a good, minor explosion – for scientific purposes only – you need about $5. That’s what Dr. Lisa Sullivan, chair of the Austin Peay State University chemistry department, said when she used a cheap plastic bottle, a little methanol and the free oxygen we all breath for a quick scientific experiment.
“I think you should be able to do science on a shoestring budget,” Sullivan said. “I can show you thousands of dollars of phenomenal experiments, but that doesn’t help you in Houston and Humphreys counties.”
Last month, Sullivan presented low-budget demonstrations (“$5 or less”) to a group of 30 science teachers from those two rural counties during a special, two-day STEM workshop, hosted by Austin Peay’s new Center for Rural Education. In the spring of 2018, the University’s Eriksson College of Education opened the center to serve rural Tennessee school districts that experience, according to the center, “higher per-pupil costs, higher poverty rates, population decline, hard-to-staff positions with high teacher turnover, geographic isolation and resistance to innovation.”
Last month’s workshop marked the center’s first initiative aimed at helping rural teachers get the training and tools they need to succeed in their classrooms.
“We worked with the county (school) supervisors to identify the need in their county, and the new science standards were a big need,” Dr. Cheryl Lambert, assistant professor of education and the center’s coordinator, said. “We wanted to start with the professional development component, so these teachers are getting professional development hours, they’re getting credit from their schools.”
The Houston and Humphreys teachers attended seminars hosted by APSU’s Eriksson College of Education and APSU’s College of STEM, and they were able to practice their own science demonstrations within the University’s state-of-the-art Jack Hunt STEM Center. Those experiments, even when they followed the instructions, didn’t always end successfully.
“This is all about probing your students with deeper questions, and science lends itself to that,” Dr. Phil Short, assistant professor of education and director of the STEM Center, said. “Especially when you allow for failure to occur.”
Sullivan immediately echoed this sentiment to the rural teachers.
“You need to be OK with letting your kids fail, and letting them be OK with failure,” she said. “Science is not always going to work how the manual or the textbook or the handout says it’s going to work.”
In addition to the professional development hours, the group of rural educators also received science equipment and tools to take back to their classrooms.
“I pushed out a survey at the beginning, and they said they needed resources,” Lambert said. “We have some funds for this effort, so they were able to look for something around $50 from these approved vendors. They’re getting resources, professional development credit for the hours they’re spending here and we’re developing strong relationships with the rural counties we want to serve.”
For information on the new Center for Rural Education, visit http://www.apsu.edu/education/ruraled.
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