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EnLiST takes innovative science to Illinois schools, builds science teacher leaders

by Matthew Schroyer / Jun 26, 2012

In mid-June, on the University of Illinois campus, nearly 100 science teachers from around the state learned new and innovative K-12 science content and instructional approaches. Taking part in the National Science Foundation grant EnLiST (Entrepreneurial Leadership in STEM Teaching and learning) Summer Institutes, they also gained entrepreneurial leadership skills to bring to their classrooms and schools.

Institute attendees engaged with Nano-technology applications, including practicing stereo lithography in level-10 clean rooms, making Shottky diodes on silicon wafers, and working with DNA, all with the help of U of I faculty. Teachers also participated in chemistry and physics institutes where they experienced inquiry-oriented approaches to learning the core chemical and physical concepts that they teach to their K-12 students.

On June 21, as the summer institutes came to an end, participants had another opportunity to learn about improving science education, as they listened to advice from the nation’s best environmental science teacher during EnLiST’s annual dinner and poster seminar.

At the Alice Campbell Alumni Center, Paul Ritter, a science teacher from Pontiac, Ill., who the United Nations selected as the 2011-12 National Environmental Science teacher of the year, told fellow science teachers how to build excitement and enthusiasm for science initiatives.

"If you get them excited, you'll have them," Ritter said, "They’ll want to learn."

"I knew that to make some things happen, I wanted to do things with businesses and with people out there in the community," Ritter said. "But I wanted to rely on the professionals to bring those things into my classroom. I'm going to make some partnerships."

An essential part of the two-week EnLiST Institutes was entrepreneurial leadership training, where science teachers learned to collaborate across classrooms and districts, and how to marshal resources to improve science teaching. EnLiST teacher leaders then go on to foster innovative collaborations that span classrooms, schools, and districts.

EnLiST teacher leaders from 30 school districts around the state have fostered teaching partnerships that encourage students to learn and become excited about science in fun and out-of-the-ordinary ways. Students develop underwater robots, produce biofuels, explore alternative energy, and practice energy efficiency. These collaborations also provide the opportunity for high school and middle school students to become teaching role models when they enter elementary schools to teach science lessons.

In one of these EnLiST cross-teaching collaborations, with the help of University of Illinois Chemistry Professor Pat Shapley and University High School science teacher David Bergandine, University High School students taught Champaign and Urbana elementary students how electric circuits work. Other lessons demonstrated magnetism, energy efficiency, and graph-making.

At the EnLiST annual dinner, Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, the head of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and a co-principal investigator for the EnLiST grant, noted the latest accomplishments in partner school districts.

"This ever-expanding EnLiST partnership grows larger, integrated, and more effective in achieving what brought us all together, and what continues to bring us together: the goal of improving science learning experiences for all K-12 students," Abd-El-Khalick said. "This way, EnLiST can contribute to local and national efforts to address and hopefully reverse the current severe shortage in the National STEM pipeline."

EnLiST is a five-year, $5 M Math Science Partnership (MSP) grant funded by the National Science Foundation now in its fourth year. It is a partnership between the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana School District #116, Champaign Unit 4 School District, Thornton High School District #205, McLean County Unit 5, and Western Community Unit School districts, along with other affiliate districts across the state of Illinois.

EnLiST aims to build the capacity of a new generation of science teacher leaders who, armed with cutting edge content knowledge, a strong pedagogical repertoire, and entrepreneurial spirit and mindset, can transform science teaching and learning in their classrooms, schools and districts.