South Dakota teachers attend Physical Science Workshop at BHSU

Author: BHSU Communications/Monday, July 11, 2016/Categories: 2016

Kayla Schindling, Sioux Falls Ashley Schruers, Lead-Deadwood and Tiffany Engesser, Rapid City, discuss atomic models with Dr. Andy Johnson (second from left)

SPEARFISH... Twenty-nine teachers from across the state of South Dakota attended a Physical Science Concepts for Teachers workshop June 19-24, 2016 at Black Hills State University. It was facilitated by Dr. Andy Johnson, assistant professor of physics and Dr. Janet Briggs, science education specialist at the Center for the Advancement of Math and Science Education (CAMSE).

The class was offered as part of the Science Specialist Endorsement through BHSU, an 18-hour program that serves as a content area within the Masters of Science in Curriculum and Instruction degree, or as a stand-alone endorsement on the teaching certificate of teachers with an existing master's degree.

Teachers in the workshop developed deep understandings of key, difficult physical science and chemistry concepts through inquiry-based activities. The course centered on explanations of the basic components of matter-atoms and molecules. Teachers developed deep and useful ideas about atoms and about molecules, and applied ideas of fields, forces and energy to understand basic ideas such as why molecules hold together, the role of energy in chemical reactions, and what matter is like at the molecular level.

The course used state-of-the-art learning strategies including computer simulations of atomic interactions, "Energy Theater" in which participants enacted energy transfers and transformations, collaborative problem-solving, and group discussions to delve deeply into the topics. The teachers benefitted from a blend of science content and teaching strategies, which they can use in their own classrooms.

One of the goals of the workshop was for teachers to experience learning difficult science content as students. The teachers shared their thoughts on the benefits of learning a blend of science content and teaching strategies. Liz Wookey, from Clark High School, said, "We were able to take on the role of students and this allowed us to see how effective concept learning is."

Nikki Milledge from Bennett County High School said, "Our professors did an excellent job of modeling how we should be questioning and guiding learning instead of giving answers."

Rebecca Redetzke, a chemistry teacher in Sioux Falls, said, "I was able to critically analyze my understanding of chemistry and physics concepts to deepen my understanding, clarify my thoughts, and hopefully allow me to give students a more clear understanding."

As they look forward to next school year and the impact the workshop would have on their teaching, the participants planned similar learning opportunities for their students. Marcie Welsh, high school teacher in Brookings, described the teaching strategies as ones that "will allow my students to work with and struggle through the material instead of me spoon feeding the knowledge to them. The inquiry activities will lead to those "ah-ha" moments for my students."

Sandra Biddle, a high school teacher from Platte-Geddes, said the class will help teachers prepare for the implementation of the new South Dakota Science Standards with a "focus on core science ideas, crosscutting concepts and the science and engineering practices contained within the standards." Dr. Janet Briggs added, "We were able to blend the science concepts with the modeling of the practices. The teachers worked collaboratively to reason through evidence from the activities and to describe the science content they were learning. This aligns with the philosophy of the new standards."

Dr. Andy Johnson, the instructor for the course, commented, "Most people have limited understanding of atoms and molecules, and can benefit from a more coherent mental model of how they work. This course challenged the participants to think of atoms based on the charges of protons and electrons. From there, the participants made sense of the rearrangements of electrons to explain molecules, and to explain chemical reactions. It's a popular misconception that energy is released when bonds are broken. Actually, the energy is released when new bonds form. In order to help the teachers think in new ways, and to help them be as effective as possible in their classrooms, we used the best teaching methods that are currently known." This deeper understanding will enable the participating teachers to better teach about chemical reactions and other processes.

The workshop was funded through a No Child Left Behind Title II Part A grant written by Dr. Briggs and Dr. Johnson and funded through the South Dakota Board of Regents. Dr. Briggs has received 9 previous Title II grants that provide funding for teacher professional development in science. For more information contact Janet Briggs at 605-642-6875 or or Andy Johnson at

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