Area Science Teachers Take National Stage

Northview High School science teacher Erin Berryhill (wearing green scarf) works with students during an inquiry lab

Go ahead, ask a question. Better yet, ask a bunch of questions.

Three science teachers from Kent ISD schools were among 10 teachers who recently made presentations at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in Philadelphia.

The trio — Kristy Rieger from Grandville High School, Northview High School’s Erin Berryhill and Sarah Weber from Comstock Park High School — say they’re well aware today’s world requires much more from tomorrow’s workforce than memorizing facts and information learned by rote.

That’s where inquiry-based learning comes into play, they say.

Investigate and Apply

That method of learning nudges science students to ask their own questions, investigate the answers for themselves and determine how to apply that newly mined knowledge. The cool part is students get a better idea of how scientists actually work.

“It focuses more on getting students to use critical thinking skills,” Weber said. “Textbooks like to regurgitate answers. whereas inquiry-based learning pushes students to think on their own, especially in labs. They might not become a scientist later in life, but they can benefit from the critical thinking skills they’ve gained.”

Weber, Rieger and Berryhill are enrolled in Grand Valley State University’s Target Inquiry program, a National Science Foundation-funded effort designed to meet the professional development needs of middle and high school science teachers to help develop an inquiry-based science classroom.

Grandville High School science teacher Kristy Rieger says her students like it that their labs are now more intentional
Grandville High School science teacher Kristy Rieger says her students like it that their labs are now more intentional

Moving Away from Memorization

In the past, middle and high school science teachers believed teaching students to memorize facts was the best method to get their minds around the ins and outs of biology, physics, physical science and chemistry. Inquiry-based learning tosses that notion out on its ear.

“I’m just really excited to find a program that so fits my needs in what I want to improve in as an instructor,” said Berryhill. “Students guide their learning a lot more than the teacher in a traditional science classroom.”

The educational payoff cannot be ignored, Rieger said. Students doing inquiry-based science exhibit a desire to earn more, are more inclined to collaborate with their peers and are more willing to take risks.

“I’m asking students to collect their own background information so the purpose of their lab more intentional,” said Rieger. “We’re moving away from where students don’t have to think as much because they’re just going through steps told to them.”

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