Williamston High School partners with Michigan State University on research project to improve science program

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On Sept. 5, five doctors who specialize in education gathered to discuss the future of Williamston High School’s science curriculum.

Two of the doctors were research associates from Michigan State University’s Education Department. MSU is working with the University of Helsinki in Finland on a research project called PIRE.

The school wants its students to enjoy learning and thanks to the PIRE program, it now has a way to measure that enjoyment.

Dr. Michele Cook, Williamston Community School’s director of curriculum and special education said they wanted to get involved with the PIRE program because of the Next Generation Science Standards.

“The NGSS is more of a hands-on, investigative, problem solving model so this project of PIRE is looking at students at a single moment in time to see how they are feeling about what they are hearing in the classroom during a science lesson,” Cook said.

The program was provided by a research team from MSU’s Education Department. Several of Williamston High School’s science classes have had hands-on, inquiry based lessons added to their curriculum.

Researchers are studying whether there is more engagement with the new units or traditional learning methods.

Tim Kelly, physical science teacher at the high school, said the state has changed the science curriculum standards. Content is required to be based more on real life situations where students have to work together to solve a problem.

“PIRE units are based on The New Generation Science Standards,” said Kelly. “I am excited to do it. We don’t have a lot of curriculum ideas yet because this is all new to us.”

The units provided by the PIRE program have given Williamston High School inspiration to better implement the recent requirements of NGSS.

Kelly was given three inquiry based PIRE lessons focused on force and motion to teach in his physical science classes. Another science teacher will be teaching inquiry based PIRE units focused on chemistry.

Williamston High School principal Dr. Jeffrey Theones said, “If teachers pick up even one or two or three good ideas from being a part of this and they add that to their toolbox for teaching, then we’re better for it.”

Currently, students are given survey questions regarding their traditional science lessons. The PIRE lessons will be implemented into the curriculum within the next few weeks. Students will then be given a similar survey once the program begins.

After the survey answers are compiled, the MSU research team will then compare the results from each learning method to see what way students are more engaged.

“They’re going to take all of that data and put it together with the lesson being taught at that moment and see if there is a correlation with what they’re learning and what they are feeling at that moment in time,” Cook said.  

Thoenes said he’d be willing to continue with similar programs because of the evolution of learning techniques, such as the requirements of NGSS.

“I think it will help redirect our traditional approach towards a more innovative and modernized teaching and learning,” Theones said. “I can say this with good confidence, Williamston is very progressive and very willing to reach out and do different things and see if they work.”