Since 2004, BJU science faculty have convened during summer to refocus and refresh in the Summer Institute in Teaching Science. The Science and Engineering Endowment established in 2003 provided for continuing faculty development, and SITS was born the following summer.
Preferably before their first year of teaching at BJU, science faculty members begin the four-summer professional development course. Two summers focus on the metacognition of the teacher, ensuring the teacher clearly understands the concepts and principles that govern thinking in their field. According to SITS director Dr. Mike Gray, “The intent … is to construct an optimal path to learning to think like a _____ where the blank is filled in by biologist, chemist, physicist, engineer, etc.”
The third summer centers on learning environment. The goal is to create a learning environment in which students can develop the thinking necessary for their chosen field. The final summer looks at how to assess if this learning is taking place using real-world applications.
Once faculty members complete the four tracks, they have the option to continue coming back for refresher courses or to develop lab courses and curriculum. Some may even go on to teach SITS sessions.
Of this year’s 18 participants, four attended for their second summer. Most of BJU’s science faculty have completed all four summers of SITS training.
Value to Faculty
The greatest value of SITS to BJU faculty is the structured interaction on how to create the best learning environment for their students. Many of the science faculty have come to BJU from professions other than education. Some have been medical doctors for many years; others are engineers. SITS provides instruction in education theory that these teachers then pair with their experience to become well-rounded instructors.
Said David Gardenghi, a chemistry and physics instructor who just completed his second summer of SITS: “Since I first started teaching, I have understood that ‘telling is not teaching.’ My problem was how to change it. I believe that (the SITS tracks) have completely reworked my understanding of how to teach effectively.”
Dr. Marc Chetta, health sciences faculty member, found the most value in learning to see the big picture. “I appreciate the emphasis of the early summers that I was privileged to attend, which helped me to develop clear thinking about my courses. I had to analyze what was important to convey and what was not. I developed principles, concepts and big ideas for each course to guide my precious minutes spent in the classroom.”
Benefit to Students
By improving the effectiveness of the science program, SITS benefits students. Through SITS, “the (science programs’) curriculum and approach were crafted to enable them to thrive as learners,” according to Gray. The strategic content and practical applications of the target courses that have been tailored through the SITS program better prepare students for a career in their chosen field.
“Students are encouraged by how much growth they experience over the semester and they know whether they are in the right major because they are engaged in doing the very things professionals in their area do,” he added. “They can move seamlessly into the workforce.”