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NMSI helps teachers raise the bar (Photo gallery)






About 140 CMSD teachers have been huddling around science experiments and other hands-on activities this week so they can learn ways to ramp up the rigor of courses for students.

The teachers, who have come from across the District for 3½ days of professional development at the John Marshall Campus, provide English language arts, math and science instruction in the sixth through 12th grades.

The National Math and Science Initiative is training the teachers through its Laying the Foundation program. The nonprofit NMSI was launched in 2007 to address a decline in the supply of students prepared for careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM. English language arts teachers joined in this week because the training incorporated writing, a skill CMSD has emphasized.

Laying the Foundation workshops show teachers how to increase the rigor, relevance and depth of instruction so it better prepares students for Advanced Placement and honors classes and, ultimately, college. Teachers discover low-cost, accessible resources and experience activities from a student’s perspective.

“We focus on meeting kids where they are, taking the work and scaffolding it up,” said Kellye Vandergriff, a NMSI trainer. “Not lowering expectations would be the key.”

Shannon Lynch, a science teacher at New Tech West High School, said the workshop has pointed her to tools and exercises that merge biology content with the “process” of the state biology exam. Taken online, the test requires students to work in a virtual lab.

Garvin Yeung teaches biology and environmental science at Design Lab Early College High School. Like Lynch, he believes the workshop will help him get students ready for the state biology test.

“The Ohio state test is not a test for content and knowledge, it’s a test for understanding,” he said. “Going deeper, asking questions about how the students experience what they do, this work is developing that skill.”

This is the fourth year that the National Math and Science Initiative has conducted Laying the Foundation training for the District.

The visits started the same year that NMSI began working with CMSD high schools to better prepare students to take and earn qualifying scores on AP exams. CMSD is increasing rigor as part of The Cleveland Plan, a customized blueprint for education reform.

NMSI’s training has proved so popular that some teachers participating this week have attended all four years. Kirsten Mahovlich, CMSD science curriculum and instruction manager for seventh through 12th grades, said teachers’ reactions are evidence of the program’s impact.

“It’s a long day,” she said. “But they’re ‘happy tired.’ They feel like they’ve accomplished something.”

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