Maryville University leads program to step up science education in St. Louis public schools


ST. LOUIS – It’s summer break, but dozens of St. Louis public school teachers are taking part in a Maryville University-led program to promote more scientific inquiry in early childhood education programs at three St. Louis public schools.

They will be on site at the Missouri Botanical Garden from Monday, July 30, through Friday Aug. 3, exploring hands-on methods and new approaches for teaching young students about the natural world. Teachers from three St. Louis public magnet schools – Wilkinson Early Childhood Center, Stix Early Childhood Center and Humboldt Academy of Higher Learning – will take part in “Constructivist Early Childhood Science: Building Inquiring Minds.”

The two-year project started last spring and includes $345,000 in federal funding. Administered through the Missouri Department of Higher Education, it gives teachers who teach pre-kindergarten through the fifth grade an opportunity to learn new approaches to teaching science. The program is coordinated through Maryville’s School of Education and College of Arts and Sciences and involves partnerships with St. Louis Public Schools and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Twice during the summer, teachers attend intensive workshops, and they also work with Maryville professors during the school year.

Organizers say students who experience hands-on learning opportunities and challenge their beliefs develop a stronger scientific understanding about how the natural world works. Using that philosophy, they revisit complex and simple scientific concepts with an eye on giving educators new approaches for science learning.

For example, one morning earlier this summer, teachers focused on the water cycle. They went outside themselves to see what students might record and observe. Then, they discussed hands-on approaches to use when students consider how water rotates and circulates through the biosphere.

Maryville School of Education Dean Sam Hausfather said, “We provide the teachers with an in-depth understanding of various concepts at a higher level and help them create tools that teach the same concepts at age-appropriate levels.”

As part of the workshops, Maryville Science Education Professor Nadine Ball, Assistant Professor of Biology Kyra Krakos and the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Manager of School Programs Marty Galganski introduce teachers to approaches that will empower students to find answers to their own scientific questions.

Teachers taking part in Building Inquiring Minds say they have found many new ways to engage young students in hands-on scientific learning.

For example, Wilkinson kindergarten teacher Cathy Moore said since she began the Building Inquiring Minds program in 2011, she brought a hornworm into her classroom and her students watched it “turn into a moth right before their eyes.” She has learned new ways to question students about science, and the school has developed a community garden, where teachers conduct some classes.

The Building Inquiring Minds program also includes opportunities for teachers to plan field trips to the Missouri Botanical Garden.

The year, more teachers are taking part in the program, an encouraging sign for those leading Building Inquiring Minds. Early results are positive for both students and teachers.

Title II Part A of the Federal Improving Teacher Quality Grant administered by the Missouri Department of Higher Education provides funds for this program. Financing includes approximately $345,000 of federal funding and $100,000 from non-governmental sources, including $12,000 from the Monsanto Fund.

About Maryville University
Maryville University, established in 1872, moved to the national universities category of U.S. News & World Report this year. It is one of three institutions in the Greater St. Louis Area ranked in this division. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance ranks Maryville in the Top 100 Private Universities in the U.S. for Best Value.