CSU Expands Inquiry Teaching Initiative

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- A team of five Harris County High School chemistry honor students are investigating the hardness of Harris County’s groundwater. The results will help local officials decide if calcium levels are high enough to warrant treating the water to prevent potential problems in homes and businesses.

Supervised by their teacher, Jody Lumsden, the team collects and analyzes water samples from various sites for two hours twice a week after school.

The investigation, to conclude within two months, has spawned from Columbus State University’s “Inquiry Teaching Project” to train area science teachers to teach their students how to design and carry out advanced, scientific investigations.

The initiative is part of a nationwide effort to better prepare students for college-level science, said project director Anil Banerjee, a CSU assistant professor of chemistry and chemistry education.

“The project in Harris County is a great example of how kids can experience firsthand science — and in this case chemistry — that has real-life implications, and is not just a ‘boring,’ school exercise,” said Banerjee.

Lumsden and nine colleagues from Harris County, Northside, Kendrick and Shaw high schools, and Stanley Middle School in Americus, have participated in weekly, two-hour inquiry teaching workshops taught by Banerjee at CSU since summer 2006.

Banerjee, who secured a $46,000 federal grant to start the project in March 2006, recently received additional federal funds and approval from the University System of Georgia Board of Regents to expand the program during the next two years.

The expanded phase, “Developing Inquiry Teaching strategies and Labs to Improve Student Learning of Chemistry and Physical Science in Middle and High Schools,” will support six additional teachers, including representatives of Blackmon and Harris County’s Carver middle schools. The teachers, including those already participating, will gather from 4:30-6 p.m. Thursday, March 15 in Lenoir 206 on the CSU campus for science-lab exercises. More workshops and related activities will folow on a regular basis.

“We also will develop a resource book on inquiry teaching and inquiry labs for use in the project schools,” said Banerjee.

The participants have been selected by Banerjee and school administrators, including Harris County High School Principal Roger Couch, who lauded the program in a letter to Banerjee: “In the opinion of the current teachers, the project has given them the opportunity to improve their instructional lab skills,” he said. “Your inclusion of middle school instructors will expand the long-range benefits of the program.”

Couch was echoed by his counterpart at Columbus’ Northside High School, Principal Renee Mallory. “(The program) has made a difference in the amount learned in the (participating teachers’) classes… It encourages students to think and be actively engaged in the learning process,” she said.

Banerjee, who implemented a similar program at Texas A&M in 2004-2005, is supported in the current project by the following CSU faculty members, who are serving as consultants: Bonita Flournoy, associate professor of science teacher education; and chemistry professors Rajeev Dabke, Floyd Jackson and Joseph Rugutt.

Banerjee said the project actively supports the recently revised Georgia Performance Standards set forth by the Georgia Department of Education.

The project also is supported by U.S. Department of Education “Improving Teacher Quality Higher Education Funds” administered by the University of Georgia, with a matching grant provided by CSU.

For more information, contact Banerjee at 706-569-3030 or by e-mail: banerjee_anil@ColumbusState.edu.