Outreach

VISTA in Action–Teacher Inspires Students with Science

By Pam McKeta

“We are the future of the rest of our planet,” says second-grader Juliet. With great seriousness and impressive facts, she and her fellow seven- and eight-year-old classmates go on to describe how a warming planet is affecting squirrels, snakes, bats, and penguins.

The students are in teacher Laurie Goss’s second-grade class at Taylor Elementary, a newly designated science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) school in Arlington, Virginia. Goss created a problem-based learning unit on climate change after taking part in professional development offered by the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA), a collaborative statewide project led by Mason’s College of Education and Human Development.

Goss challenged her class with the following problem: How can we protect plants and animals in their habitats from the effects of climate change? The results of their inquiry are featured in this short video from Arlington Public Schools.

In describing their projects, the students talk with ease about fossil fuels, threats, the food cycle, extinction, habitats, and collaboration, expressing a level of understanding for a complex issue that is amazing to see.

“The engagement level was huge,” says Goss. “They acted like scientists. They did the work of scientists. Each day as we wrapped up a lesson, we would say, ‘What work did we do today that real scientists do?’ So they totally understood that the work going on in the classroom was the kind of work that real scientists do.”

Arlington County Public Schools teacher Susan Goss works with one of her students at Taylor Elementary. Photo courtesy of VISTA.

Arlington County Public Schools teacher Laurie Goss works with one of her students at Taylor Elementary. Photo courtesy of VISTA.

“From that, I have a level of excitement about science in my classroom that I’ve never had,” says Goss. “My kids every day are telling me how much they love science. And so many of them now are looking forward to a career that involves science. It’s been a really thrilling experience.”

Acting as a catalyst for classroom teachers such as Goss is what VISTA is all about. The project, now completing its second year, aims to increase elementary and secondary student performance in science using innovative problem-based learning techniques and inquiry-based teaching methods that pilot studies have shown to be successful.

Arlington County Public Schools teacher Laurie Goss participated in a professional development workshop offered by the Virginia Initiative last summer. Photo courtesy of VISTA.

Arlington County Public Schools teacher Laurie Goss participated in a professional development workshop offered by the Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) last summer. Photo courtesy of VISTA.

Along the way, students are also getting excited about a career in science–an added bonus. As second-grader Ryan notes, “It’s important to know about climate change when you’re a kid, so if you want to fight climate change when you’re an adult, you can be a scientist and help.”

VISTA is a statewide partnership among 60+ Virginia school districts, six Virginia universities, and the Virginia Department of Education. Its goal is to translate research-based best teaching practices into improved science teaching and student learning for all students at all levels. VISTA is funded by a five-year, $34 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, which includes a $5.7 million private-sector matching requirement.

To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.

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