JCPS Biology Teachers on Leading Edge of Education

New teaching method used at JCPS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS 11) -- A new partnership at JCPS is helping teachers transform the way their students learn science. The teaching method makes students more active participants in learning. This is the very first time the method of teaching, named STeLLA has been tested using high school students and teachers. JCPS partnered with BSCS, a group that studies science curriculum, and together they are working to give students a better understanding of science.

“I think it’s way more real life than the ways we’ve taught biology before,” explained Jessie Newhouse, a biology teacher at Southern High School.

Jessie is one of 24 teachers who opted into learning “Science Teachers Learning Through Lesson Analysis or STeLLA for short.

“This subject matter in particular is difficult for students. Teaching about natural selection and genetics are both on one of the more difficult topics,” said Jessie who has been teaching science for 6 years.

“Typically, when we teach, we give students information, ask questions have activities that they do and then they tell us, you know, back what they’ve learned,” she explained.

Not so with STeLLA.

“We’re making the kids work way harder. They’re doing all the work. We’re guiding them toward the right answers, but they’re doing a lot of the discovery and investigation on their own, so it’s, in my mind it’s way better. It’s way more like actual scientists actually work, which is our goal is to give them that experience. Like, if you go out and become a scientist, how are you going to be able to solve problems?”

To go beyond memorizing facts, and take students into a deeper understanding of science.

“It has a conceptual framework where we’re helping teachers reimagine and focus their attention in teaching on what are student’s ideas coming in, and how can we work with those ideas to help them learn science and make it applicable to their world,” explained Connie Hvidsten with BSCS. She teaches science teachers how to use STeLLA.

“We had never worked with high school teachers before we were curious about how this would go over with high school teachers and the reception we’ve gotten here at Jefferson County has been fantastic, the enthusiasm among these teachers, the dedication that they’ve shown in giving up their time, in doing the extra work that this takes to be in this program and really the excitement that they’ve had.”

One of the cool things about learning STeLLA is it comes with a video component. First teachers watch videos of other teachers using the method, then someone comes into their classroom and records them. At the next meeting they choose a portion and get to go over it with peers, learning from each other and getting ideas of ways to improve their own teaching.

“Being able to watch video and watch teachers in classrooms doing work, is I think the best way for us to learn, how we’re approaching things and how to get better at what we’re doing. So, it was nerve-wracking, I’m excited to see the outcome of the video, because yeah, you can learn a lot by watching yourself do your job,” said Jessie.

All with the hopes of getting more students fully engaged in science.

“Through this process they’re discovering, they’re learning, they’re talking to each other. It’s in my mind way better than us just giving them information,” said Jessie.

The STeLLA program is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Teachers met this summer for two weeks to learning the teaching strategy. Now they meet about once a month to watch videos of each other and to develop their curriculum. Once these teachers finish the program, the goal is that they can maintain the program at JCPS even without the grant funding.

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