MITS 2008 Summer Institute

The Museum Institute for Teaching Science

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Science literacy is a critical but overlooked skill that, if learned at an early age, helps develop critical thinking, reading abilities and computation skills needed to make informed decisions in daily life. The mission of the Museum Institute for Teaching Science (MITS) is to improve the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in elementary and middle schools (K-8). We use inquirybased, hands-on methods for teaching, and collaborate with informal science institutions to raise student interest and literacy in science, and to encourage more STEM graduates.

MITS was founded in the 1980s by seven Boston area museum directors who were concerned about the declining number of students majoring in science and engineering, and the threat this posed to America as the world leader in innovation. MITS believes that students are most vulnerable to losing an interest in science during their formative K-8 years, and thus offers two-week programs, or Summer Institutes, to train K-8 teachers to teach their students about science and engineering more effectively. The programs can accommodate 400 teachers annually. The fact that many teachers return for Summer Institute training is a testament to its success.

The MITS model is unique because it taps the expertise of educators from 43 museums to teach the Summer Institutes in nine regions throughout Massachusetts. The program is economical and competitive with typical in-house professional development offered by school systems. This year, the central theme is Headline Science: Science, Math, and Literacy Behind the Headlines. Teachers will learn about the science making headlines, including global warming, water quality, the ecosystem, and the effects of the environment on our bodies. Teachers will learn how to teach these subjects using inquiry-based methods on three levels: directed, guided, and open inquiry. In directed inquiry the teacher informs the students of the questions, materials, and data they wish addressed. They are told how to analyze the data and how to communicate the findings. In guided inquiry the teacher provides a question that needs clarification by the student. The student is given data and asked to analyze it and uses evidence to formulate an explanation. They are given the possible connection to scientific knowledge and provided broad guidelines to sharpen communication. In open inquiry the student initiates all the steps from posing the question, to deciding the evidence needed, collecting it, summarizing and explaining it. Hands-on methods involve having students do the experiments, usually in small groups. Inquiry can be done with a teacher lecturing, but is most effective when the students do the activity themselves.

During their training, teachers develop lesson plans that accrue Professional Development Points approved under the Massachusetts Frameworks and which reflect how well they have understood the training and how they envision using their new skills in the classroom. MITS also provides resource materials and a subscription to our quarterly publication, Science is Elementary (SIE). The activities included in SIE are simple experiments that the students can carry out to explain and clarify a concept that is part of the curriculum. The program also includes three Professional Development Seminars for museum staffs on topics that enhance their teaching and update them on educational reform. STEM booklets are currently being created on CD’s.

The program costs $200 per teacher, or $175 per teacher if two or more come from the same school. MITS is working with the Department of Education to develop a workshop program for an urban district, and is also seeking to establish a multi-year commitment to a Summer Institute from a school district in one or more regional areas.

Contact the Author:
Emily Wade
MITS, Inc.
308 Congress St, Suite 5D
Boston, MA 02210
Phone: 617-695-9771
Fax: 617-695-1829


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