Science and math graphicA collaborative partnership involving Northern Arizona University and Gilbert Public Schools has been awarded a $281,000 grant from the Arizona Department of Education to boost elementary school science education.

The grant, titled “Powerful Engineering and Physical Science Ideas,” was awarded through the state’s Mathematics and Science Partnership. It became effective Sept. 25.

After a period of classroom observations and content testing, 35 first- through fifth-grade teachers from 11 schools will participate in monthly professional development and a week-long summer institute guided by professor Kathy Eastwood and lecturer Ethan Dolle from NAU’s physics and astronomy department.

The activities are intended to increase confidence levels in teaching science and show how well-structured scientific investigations can help lead to improved writing and critical thinking skills among students.

“We are excited to partner with Gilbert Public Schools to help them reach their goal of improving their science policies, programs and practice,” said Lori Rubino-Hare, professional development coordinator at NAU’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning.

“It is critical to provide elementary school children fun and engaging experiences with STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] early and to encourage students’ natural desire to investigate their worlds,” she said.

Rubino-Hare, who will work with teachers on implementing content strategies, said elementary school teachers often do not teach science because they lack content knowledge and confidence.

“We hope to provide teachers fun experiences that increase their physical science content knowledge, resources and strategies for teaching through guided investigations, and thus increase their confidence in teaching science,” she said.

Amy Gingell, science coordinator for Gilbert Public Schools, added, “We don’t get a lot of opportunity to share this kind of training with elementary teachers. Physical science is just hard. It would be so nice to see the younger students have an opportunity to have their teachers feel better about it.”

According to Gingell and Rubino-Hare, funding may be obtained for a second year if the requirements of the grant are successfully completed.