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Support for Educators in the Field

‘Writing in Science, Science in Writing’ Pilot Begins in Pender County

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Faculty from the Watson College of Education and UNCW’s College of Arts and Sciences hope to help teachers enhance students’ writing skills by engaging elementary school children through science. A team, led by WCE associate professor Debbie Powell, is conducting a pilot of the program, “Writing in Science, Science in Writing,” in partnership with Pender County Schools during the 2015-16 academic year.

Ten teachers, three instructional coaches and six administrators from Topsail, South Topsail and Burgaw Elementary schools are participating in the pilot, which began in summer 2015.

Goals include achieving the creation of model science and writing classrooms and developing teacher leaders who can help scale the program by introducing it to teachers throughout the district. The ultimate goal is to “help teachers inspire students to find wonder in the world around them and write effectively about it,” Powell said.

“Writing is a critical thinking tool that is absolutely integral to science,” she said. “Scientists need to record observations and publish findings for their work to have an impact. Teachers can simulate this same scientific process in their classrooms.”

The pilot began with a weeklong science engagement project in Pender County led by UNCW’s national award-winning Geology professor Patricia Kelley. Kelley’s research focuses on the evolution and paleoecology of Coastal Plain mollusks. She brought fossils from the riverbank into the classroom to give Pender teachers and administrators an applied learning experience. The project staff and district coaches delivered lessons on inquiry science, scientific writing and the writing process.

The summer professional development week was highly effective, Powell said. “When we started, some teachers were reticent about teaching science and unsure how they could find time to fit writing into their schedules, but by the end of the week they all saw themselves as scientists and writers. They expressed confidence that they could help students become scientists and writers, too.”

Each month, Powell, WCE associate professor Brad Walker and WCE assistant professor Chuck Jurich visit Topsail, South Topsail and Burgaw Elementary schools to host workshops for teachers participating in the pilot. In October, the Pender team visited the UNCW campus to learn about resources the university offers.

During the visit, Roger Shew, lecturer in UNCW’s geography and geology and environmental studies departments, shared the resources teachers can borrow and things he would be willing to bring to the schools; Dennis Kubasko, associate professor and director of WCE’s Center for Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (CESTEM), shared materials available for school Family Science Night programs and materials offered through CESTEM’s Technology Loan Program; and Kathryn Batten, coordinator of Randall Library Curriculum Materials Center (CMC), shared information about the specialized collection of resources that are available to teachers through the CMC, located on campus in the Education Building.

Pender’s time-challenged teachers appreciated learning about ideas and resources they can take and run with, Powell said. UNCW faculty working on the “Writing in Science, Science in Writing” program have invited the Pender team back to campus in January to learn more about outreach programs and university resources.

UNCW and Pender project leaders are pleased with initial progress on the project, Powell said. “It has been incredible to see the teachers develop and to witness their growing enthusiasm for the concept of combining science with writing in Language Arts.”

Strong administrative support for the project has been a key to the early success, Powell said, mentioning Beth Metcalf, director of Elementary Student Learning and Title I for Pender County Schools, and principals and assistant principals from Topsail, South Topsail and Burgaw Elementary schools.

Goals for the spring semester include helping pilot teachers grow to become leadership teachers. “Right now, the teachers are passionate and engaged. Our next step is to help develop their leadership potential so they can carry the program forward,” Powell said. The team also hopes to bring technology specialists and art teachers in the schools into the project to add additional dimensions of creativity.

The “Writing in Science, Science in Writing” program is funded by a North Carolina Quality Educators through Staff Development and Training (NC QUEST) grant from the University of North Carolina General Administration (UNC GA) in the amount of $216,788. The grant was awarded to UNCW in March.

Powell is project director for the grant while Kelley and Metcalf are project co-directors. Jurich, Shew and Walker are project managers. Additional WCE faculty members serving as project managers are Lynn Sikma, assistant professor in WCE’s Elementary Education program and Amy Garrett Dikkers, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership.

For information on resources available to teachers through UNCW visit:

The Curriculum Materials Center website: https://library.uncw.edu/cmc/

CESTEM’s Technology Loan Program webpage: https:/uncw.edu/cestem/loan.html