COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Researchers at the University of Missouri will receive a $2.6 million National Science Foundation grant over the next four years to study an innovative model of teacher professional development that includes controlled teaching experiences--opportunities for teachers to develop new skills while working directly with students and colleagues. Deborah Hanuscin, an associate professor jointly appointed in the MU College of Education and College of Arts and Science, is the lead investigator on the project, "QuEST: Quality Elementary Science Teaching." The NSF grant will enable Missouri K-6 teachers to attend the physics-focused program and enable researchers to conduct an in-depth study of the effects of the program on teachers and their students.
While programs for prospective teachers include field experiences and student teaching, during which students can develop their expertise, the typical teacher professional development program does not provide immediate opportunities for teachers to practice and develop proficiency in using new strategies. The QuEST program not only teaches teachers new instructional strategies for science at the summer institutes, but also incorporates a week-long student science camp that serves as a teaching-learning laboratory. During these controlled teaching experiences, teachers are able to work collaboratively in teams to implement new strategies, examine their impact on students' understanding of science, and make adjustments to their instruction. Hanuscin says this design is a break from the traditional approach to working with teachers.
"We would never dream of sending a prospective teacher into his or her first classroom without student teaching experiences and opportunities to practice teaching," Hanuscin said. "Yet, we often ask teachers to attend summer workshops, then wait until they return to school in fall to try to implement what they learned. Research on the effects of this innovative program design will explore how controlled teaching experiences support the learning of teachers and, in turn, their students. If our research finds this program to be successful, the QuEST model could be replicated elsewhere to the benefit of greater numbers of teachers and students."
Hanuscin and Delinda van Garderen, associate professor of special education at MU, created the QuEST program and began its implementation in 2009 with support from a grant from the Missouri Department of Higher Education. Co-investigators on the project include Mark Ehlert, associate research professor in economics of education; Cathy Thomas, assistant professor in special education; Michelle Klosterman, assistant professor in science education; and Karen King, assistant teaching professor in physics. School districts participating in the previous workshops include Columbia Public School District, Hazelwood School District, Hannibal School District, Independence School District, St. Louis Public Schools, and the Archdiocese of St. Louis.