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UNG Psci-Train program makes learning science fun
Teachers in Hall County learn science tools and knowledge to improve teaching skills
Students in Cheryl Walls’ fourth-grade class at Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry use hands-on tools for learning. Walls is participating in Psci-Train, program designed to help students by strengthening teachers’ knowledge and skills.

Being a science teacher isn’t easy.

These instructors have to make concepts such as “thermal energy” and “wavelengths” interesting and fun.

For several Hall County science teachers, it is a practice they’ve devoted two years to improve.

The Psci-Train program, a two-year professional development course taught by University of North Georgia faculty, gives participating Hall County and Lumpkin County science tools and knowledge to improve their teaching skills.

The program began last November, and participating teachers have used some of the lessons they learned in their classrooms this fall.

“I have benefited greatly from the review of content to deepen my knowledge and understanding of scientific principles,” said Cheryl Walls, science teacher at Chestnut Mountain Creative School of Inquiry in Flowery Branch. “I also received instruction in how to implement scientific inquiry into my lessons.”

Walls said she learned the “5E Model,” which stands for “engage, explore, explain, extend and evaluate.” The model shows teachers how to introduce a lesson, increase student participation and enhance student understanding, all in a hands-on way.

“The 5E model provides students with the opportunity to learn by doing and collaborating with peers instead of learning by lecture or through textbooks alone,” Walls said.

Collaborative tools include visual methods to demonstrate scientific principles. Slinkies emulated different types of waves, while Chinese lanterns demonstrate thermal energy.

“Children are naturally curious, and hands-on activities encourage problem-solving skills that teach independence and perseverance,” said Carol Duncan, first-grade teacher at Chestnut Mountain. “Project-based learning is here to stay, and we are appreciative of the exciting materials we have been exposed to during these sessions.”

In the program, teachers also share their own ideas and collaborate in groups to identify ways they might adapt the session’s teaching strategies to their own classrooms.

“Each class meeting, we expand our science content knowledge and refine instruction,” Duncan said. “We have valuable time to share with colleagues and materials are available for us to check out and take back to our classrooms to share with our students.”

Psci-Train is funded by a Georgia Department of Education grant that was awarded through the federal Mathematics and Science Partnership program. The grant recently received a $50,000 increase in funding from the state Department of Education.

The grant funded $138,483 last year and will fund $187,804 this year.

“An increase of this significance in the grant funding is remarkable,” said Dr. Susan Brandenburg-Ayres, dean of UNG’s College of Education, in a release from the university. “This is a tribute to the work of UNG faculty members Dr. Nelms, Dr. Choi, Dr. Spraker and public school teachers who are attacking increasingly complex math and science content and finding ways to make teaching and learning effective and exciting for high-need students in our region.”

Walls said she believes the program deserved the funding increase because of how it benefits the students in the classroom.

“When I take the training I am receiving back to my classroom, my students get to reap the benefits,” she said. “They are learning lifelong skills that will carry them through the rest of their education and into their future careers.”