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UT wins national teacher education award for excellence and innovation

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) honored The University of Toledo with its Christa McAuliffe Award for Excellence in Teacher Education in recognition of a successful program that engages teachers and parents in supporting a young child’s natural curiosity through interactive, inquiry-based science lessons.

The national association of nearly 420 public colleges, universities and systems selected UT for the competitive award that recognizes one institution each year for excellence and innovation because of the University’s NURTURES Early Childhood Science program, which aims to improve the science readiness scores of preschool through third grade students in the Toledo area.

In a letter to UT President Sharon L. Gaber, AASCU President Muriel A. Howard calls the program “an exemplary one that can serve as a model for other institutions and help to advance practices in the field.”

NURTURES, which stands for Networking Urban Resources with Teachers and University to enRich Early Childhood Science, is a professional development program and collaboration between UT, local daycare centers and nursery schools, Toledo Public Schools, informal science centers, and other community resources to create a complementary, integrated system of science education. The program was supported with a $10 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

“We are honored to receive this award and hope that the NURTURES program will serve as an exciting model for teaching science to young children,” said Dr. Charlene Czerniak, professor emeritus of science education and research professor in the UT College of Engineering. “By engaging young children in high-quality science experiences, teachers can also impact reading, literacy and mathematics in statistically significant ways.”

According to research published recently in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, every year that a student has a NURTURES program teacher adds on average 8.6 points to a student’s early literacy standardized test score compared to control students, 17 points to a student’s mathematics score, and 41.4 points to a student’s reading score.

“Our innovation comes in through the multifaceted way the program engages teachers, parents and the community in science for young children,” Czerniak said. “Science focused on preschool through third grade is not the norm. And by engaging children in school-based, at-home-based and informal-community-based science, we build a model for helping young children learn science and improve in reading, literacy and mathematics as well.”

The NURTURES program enhances teacher understanding of science content to improve classroom practices and offers classroom extension activities and family learning opportunities in the Toledo area.

It includes five primary components, including:

• A two-week summer institute for preschool through third grade teachers in which they have access to both scientists and instructional coaches;

• Academic year professional development, including monthly professional learning community meetings and one-on-one coaching;

• Family science activity take-home packs that each include a newsletter with directions for the investigation, necessary materials for the activity, and a journal sheet for children to record data or visually represent understanding;

• Family community science events, such as engineering challenge simulations, and observations and demonstrations at a park, zoo, science center, library or farm; and

• Public service broadcasts on television that promote family science activities.

Czerniak oversaw the development of the NURTURES program along with Dr. Joan Kaderavek, professor of early childhood, physical and special education in the UT Judith Herb College of Education; Dr. Susanna Hapgood, associate professor in the UT Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the Judith Herb College of Education; and Dr. Scott Molitor, associate professor in the UT Department of Bioengineering in the College of Engineering.

The award for teacher education will be presented to UT Sunday, Oct. 22, during the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ annual meeting in California. Awards also will be presented to institutions in six other categories: civic learning and community engagement; international education; leadership development and diversity; regional and economic development; student success and college completion; and sustainability and sustainable development.

“Innovation at America’s state colleges and universities is focused on advancing the quality of the educational experience for their students and the distinction of their institutions in service to their communities,” Howard said. “The programs for which these universities are being honored will inspire not only their AASCU colleagues, but all of higher education.”