Inside the partnership: Jamestown Elementary

Sara Berghoff, fifth grade science teacher

How has the program changed the way you teach science?

One of the ways the program has changed the way I teach is, now I use the inquiry method. Students were allowed to discover. Before the program, for example, I would have never let the kids write their own procedures. I would have just put them up on the board, they would have copied them in their notebook, and we would have gone on with the lesson. Having them build their own procedures and letting them know that you don’t have to do it a certain way to be able to come up with valid results, that’s one thing I’ve really enjoyed. I’ve actually had to change my method of teaching because before the training, I’d feel as if I were giving my  ‘power’ away. It’s just the opposite. By having the kids figure out the problems on their own, they’re learning to think critically. These are the next generation of problem solvers and there won’t always be someone there to help them.

Science is curiosity. A lot of times the kids will say, ‘Oh that’s magic,’ and I say ‘No, it’s science. The reason we exist is science.’

How are the students benefiting from your participation in the program?

One of the ways my students have benefited from my participation in the program is, now they love science. Anytime they see the tray with items on it, they know they’re in for an experiment and they get to set it up and figure out a problem, collect data. They love collecting the data and building the data charts. A lot of them like to see if their hypothesis comes out correct. I will tell them that it’s not going to be correct or incorrect, it’s going to be supported or not supported.

The big thing I learned through the program: Having the students write their own testable questions, then come up with their own hypothesis. That’s totally new from when I learned science growing up. When I was in fifth grade we read out of a textbook. Science is really hands-on, and I think that’s another thing that has helped our test scores, too, everything is hands-on and students like to be a part of it.

What’s the best thing about going through the program with other teachers in your district?

Collaboration with other Hazelwood School District teachers is the best thing about going through the program. Before the cohort began, you were in your own little school not knowing what was going on in other schools in the district. If teachers decided to talk about what they did, there wasn’t a lot of sharing across schools. I think one of the benefits of the cohort was that a lot of fifth grade teachers across the district were able to share ideas, create lessons and reviews that we could use then to get our kids ready to take that big MAP assessment test.

We stay up on technology. We fifth grade teachers all have our own little PLC – professional learning community – and share ideas, making flip charts on our Promethean Boards. Even teachers who don’t have the Promethean Boards can still use the software and charts we all created together. We do a lot of group projects. We always make things we can use in our classroom. It’s never time wasted; it’s always something that will be beneficial for later.

I loved getting to know the professors from WashU and getting their expertise and their resources that they have as far as materials. We’ve had some great guest speakers come in, not just professors assigned to us, but other experts in the field as well.

Has the program helped shape your professional development as an elementary science teacher?

Since my participation in the program I have become the science leader for the building. Now I try to help others understand what’s in their kits – because those are prepared through Washington U. – and use all the supplies that they give us. I also can help with any curriculum questions a fellow teacher might have because I’m part of the cohort. We don’t just skim over the curriculum, we really dig down deep into it. They know they can come and ask me questions if they have any.

I’ve been teaching for 13 years at Jamestown Elementary School, the science teacher for four years. I’m just thankful our school district partnered with Washington University and offered these classes free of charge. We’re getting college credit for it, and it’s only going to make you a better teacher. If you can sacrifice the time away from your family, it’s knowledge you’re never going to lose and that you can share with other people and make you the best teacher you can be.

Sara Berghoff teaches fifth grade science at Jamestown Elementary in the Hazelwood School District. She has been involved in the Institute for School Partnership’s teacher education program with the district since its inception and is now continuing as a teacher leader.