Museum program improves science teacher, student learning

March 27, 2014
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Photo courtesy of Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago.

New research by Michigan State University shows a teacher professional development program developed and run by the Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago significantly improves student performance in science.

At a press conference today in Chicago, University Distinguished Professor William Schmidt – who led the research with funding from the Boeing Corporation – joined Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, leaders of the museum and local schools to announce the study findings.

More than 800 teachers, two-thirds of whom work in the Chicago Public Schools, have participated so far. The museum also announced plans to expand the program.

Schmidt said science student performance in the United States is lagging on both national and international tests, in part because so many teachers lack the skills and the support they need to make it more engaging. “Many professional development programs are not very effective,” he said. “The museum’s program is, and we now have the proof.”

The museum’s teacher courses target fourth- through eighth-grade teachers with limited or no background in science or science teaching. Teachers at schools with predominately low-income, high-need student populations are top priority.

Schmidt, co-director of the Education Policy Center at MSU, and senior researcher Leland Cogan studied a randomly assigned group of 57 teachers who took the course on energy, called Get Re-Energized (GRE), and compared them to a control group of 28 teachers who did not participate. Both groups were comparable in the teachers’ baseline science knowledge and the demographics of their students.

The teachers were all tested at the beginning and end of the course, and the differences found were significant. Their students were also given two tests: one traditional paper and pencil test, and the other an applied knowledge test at the museum where they used their classroom learning with hands-on exhibits.

Schmidt said the study’s conclusion is unambiguous: “Not only does the GRE program have a direct effect on teacher knowledge, but the program also positively impacted student performance on both the formal and applied tests. The GRE capacity-building course benefited not only the participating teachers but their students as well.”

The museum offer its teacher courses at no cost and pays for substitute teachers. Teachers are recruited in pairs to ensure support back at school, and after each session they receive lesson plans, student worksheets, discussion forums and kits of materials to conduct classroom science activities for all students.

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For more on the study, read the summary and full report.