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‘Good Scientific Thinking’: Professor & Students Cultivate Ties with Area School Districts

Cognition and education professor Laura Wenk cultivates ties between Hampshire’s Childhood, Youth, and Learning (CYL) program and area school districts. It is a beneficial relationship for the schools, and for Hampshire students it is an opportunity to tie classroom knowledge to the outside world.

“The goal of CYL is to link practical experiences with research and theoretically-based studies. A number of my students do want to be teachers, so I have to ask myself, how do I make sure they understand what leads to good learning?” says Professor Wenk. “There are opportunities to work in the community and make a difference while they’re learning themselves.”

This semester, two of Wenk’s courses allow for interaction of this sort. Teaching Science in Urban Schools is connected to the K-8 William R. Peck School in Holyoke, with students working with fifth through eighth grade science teachers to bolster student comprehension. Wenk says that one of the key differences between high and low achievers is that the higher achievers have figured out strategies that lead to classroom success. Once teachers are able to successfully demonstrate these strategies and have students practice them, formerly low achieving students have been shown to make significant improvements.

“It’s revolutionary,” says Wenk. “For me, the role of public schools is to get everyone engaged and able to do good scientific thinking. Hampshire students will assist in classes and help develop science activities that they will first practice on each other and then go into the schools and teach.”

Her educational research course, Looking at Classrooms, examines the way redistricting may affect the English language-learning progress of non-native speakers in the Amherst school system.

“We’re trying to find out what teachers do and don’t understand about working with English language learners, and we’re also talking to parents and students about their needs, and what sort of support they’re hoping for in redistricting,” says Wenk. “In general, in the CYL program we try to identify the goals of a teacher or school district and support them in meeting those goals.”
 
Wenk also leads Hampshire’s Collaborative for Excellence in Science Education (CESE) program, which is committed to improving science education through the use of cognitive science.  With the help of Department of Energy grants, Wenk has been able to provide workshops and materials for numerous K-8 teachers. She hopes to receive more grant funding next year to continue the CESE outreach, strengthening Hampshire’s already deep connections with the area’s school districts.

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