George Mason University

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Mason Holds Summer Science Institute to Promote STEM Education

July 1, 2011

Jul. 1, 2011

Media Contact: Catherine Probst, 703-993-8813

Fairfax, Va. – Each year, more and more students graduate from high school without even a basic knowledge of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) – fields that are proven to be vital in today’s workplace and for America’s future economic growth.

In response to this growing issue, George Mason University is holding a summer science institute for elementary school teachers from across the region as part of the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) program. The institute runs now through Friday, July 22, on the university’s Fairfax Campus.

The four-week, professional development program welcomes elementary teachers from Fairfax County, Prince William County, Culpeper County and Frederick County.

The theme of the research-based institute focuses on measuring and understanding how humans impact the environment. The program will allow teachers to become immersed in a professional learning experience that will improve science teaching practice and student achievement. In addition, teachers will work collaboratively to learn a particular area of science and how to conduct inquiry- and problem-based science teaching.

The summer institute also includes a two-week summer camp for students from high-poverty schools to engage in inquiry-based science. The camp runs from Tuesday, July 5, through Friday, July 15.

“It is very important that we educate both students and teachers in STEM fields so that we can keep up in this competitive global economy,” says Eric Rhoades, co-director of the VISTA program at Mason. “This summer institute is just one of the many ways that we hope to reignite a passion for science in teachers that they can pass along to the next generation of scientists.”

Working together in a science classroom environment, students and teachers will spend several days working with scientists from around the region to investigate the waterways on the Fairfax Campus, such as Mason Pond, as well as the Occoquan watershed in Prince William County to examine the effects of human impacts on these bodies of water.

Some of the scientists who will be working as part of the VISTA team during the summer institute include Dann Sklarew, Mason associate professor of environmental biology and public policy and associate director of the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center; and Randy McBride, Mason associate professor of atmospheric, oceanic and Earth sciences.

At the end of the institute, teachers will utilize their summer teaching experiences to begin developing plans to implement inquiry-based teaching that they will use in their classrooms during the academic year. Teachers will continue to receive professional development from coaches who will visit their classrooms to help implement their teaching plans.

The VISTA project is a partnership that includes 47 school districts, six universities and the Virginia Department of Education. The goal of VISTA is to improve science teaching and student learning throughout Virginia, especially in high-need (high-poverty, high-minority) schools. Awarded to Mason in 2010, the project is funded by a $28.5 million grant from the U.S. Department Education through the Investing in Innovation (i3) program.

About George Mason University

George Mason University is an innovative, entrepreneurial institution with global distinction in a range of academic fields. Located in Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Mason provides students access to diverse cultural experiences and the most sought-after internships and employers in the country.  Mason offers strong undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering and information technology, organizational psychology, health care and visual and performing arts. With Mason professors conducting groundbreaking research in areas such as climate change, public policy and the biosciences, George Mason University is a leading example of the modern, public university. George Mason University—Where Innovation Is Tradition.