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An intensive four-day environmental science workshop let 20 area teachers submerge themselves with inquiry-based hands-on science in preparation for the fall school term.

The workshop was conducted at Black Hills State University as part of a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant to improve K-8 teachers' abilities to deliver high-quality, inquiry-based science teaching. The science project, available to 28 schools in western South Dakota, is titled Black Hills Science Teaching Project to Prepare K-8 Teachers for the New Millennium (BLAST).

The workshop taught by Dr. Charles Lamb, lead scientist for BLAST and associate professor of biology at BHSU, took the teachers through a review of scientific inquiry with a focus on central themes in biology, current trends, environmental education, research and curriculum implementation.

Lamb said he reintroduced the teachers to chemical and biological analysis as it relates to the environment. Some of these concepts were things they had learned in college years ago but perhaps hadn't recently applied.

“I wanted to encourage them to do things like that in the classroom,” he said, regarding the hands-on research. “The emphasis is on relevance; they need to make it relevant.”

Lamb said the philosophy of the class was what the BLAST project is all about—“teaching science by doing science.”

After hitting the science content pretty hard the first two days, the teachers were able to get into the actual research aspects of the workshop by investigating the water quality of Spearfish Creek.

“We literally got our feet wet,” said Carol Greco, a second grade teacher in the Lead-Deadwood district, describing her in-the-water research. “It wasn't sit and lecture science; it was doing it. It really forced me to think and recall my college background.”

Several teachers in the Spearfish district felt the workshop provided them with an opportunity to strengthen their content skills and utilize an existing resource in Spearfish Creek to teach science to their students.

“It helps us by knowing what the kids are doing by having done it ourselves,” said Sandy Nichols, a Spearfish third-grade teacher. “It was real science using actual science skills.”

Tom Mead, a Spearfish seventh grade science teacher, who assisted with the workshop presentation, said this group of 20 teachers will be a lead group who will take their workshop experiences back to their schools to share with other teachers and students. They will do this through workshop presentations and curriculum development. Participating teachers will receive a minimum of 100 hours of professional development over the five years of the project.

The teachers presented their research of the water quality analyses of Spearfish Creek at the conclusion of the workshop. They compared their site data by study group and completed a scientific report of their results.

Lamb said this workshop was one of three BLAST workshops conducted this summer. An earlier workshop dealt with national curriculum materials in science and the other workshop, taught by Bill Roggenthen at South Dakota Tech, focused on the geology of the Black Hills and Badlands.

The BH biology professor said, “Over the next five years every one of the eight participating school districts will have at least two of these projects along with one-day workshops.”

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