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VCU professor receives $1M grant to improve STEM learning in middle schools by focusing on ‘science talk’

A Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education professor has received a $1.03 million National Science Foundation grant to strengthen science learning in urban middle schools by focusing on the scientific discourse that occurs in the classroom.

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By Brian McNeill

A Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education professor has received a $1.03 million National Science Foundation grant to strengthen science learning in urban middle schools by focusing on the scientific discourse that occurs in the classroom.

“This project is based on the idea that science talk is at the heart of science learning,” said Christine Lee Bae, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Foundations of Education. “Specifically, the project aims to support science talk that productively builds upon and integrates diverse students’ knowledge and experiences, that in turn will promote equitable access to engagement, motivation and learning in science.”

The five-year Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) grant, “Building on diverse students’ funds of knowledge to promote scientific discourse and strengthen connections to science learning in urban classrooms,” will take place at approximately 15 local middle schools and will employ a mixed-methods approach with a sample of approximately 18 teachers and 450 students.

Christine Lee Bae, Ph.D.
Christine Lee Bae, Ph.D.

“The study will promote ‘authentic scientific discourse’ as a critical feature of students’ participation in science practices,” according to the abstract. “In the context of this work, scientific discourse will refer to the spoken and written words, and gestures of students and teachers as they interact in science classrooms. This, in turn, would promote students’ science learning at higher levels defined in the Next Generation Science Standards.”

Middle school is a pivotal stage in students’ academic development, as the curriculum becomes more differentiated by subject and students begin to make decisions about their future line of study and careers. This project, Bae said, proposes that building on students’ knowledge creates equitable access to participation in authentic scientific discourse.

“Integrating students’ knowledge and experiences in science discussions will strengthen their cognitive, motivational and social connections to science learning,” she said.

The project’s focus on creating opportunities for equitable and authentic scientific discourse in urban classrooms, as well as understanding the specific ways in which diverse students’ knowledge can be productively built upon to promote science learning, contributes to the broader mission of providing equitable access to high-quality science education that supports all students in becoming scientifically literate — a critical imperative for increasing diversity in STEM fields and breaking the cycle of underrepresented students losing interest and opting out of STEM pathways, Bae said.

The project will take place from 2019 to 2024, over three phases.

The study’s first phase will focus on understanding the learning context to identify methods to promote authentic scientific discourse that relates to content and practices in the science curriculum.

The second will involve working with teams of middle school science teachers in lesson study to incorporate scientific discourse in their classrooms. Science kits will be provided to create opportunities for students to engage in authentic scientific discourse as they actively explore science phenomena, such as the creation of landforms from rivers, different densities of liquids, acceleration of objects, and the changing phases of matter. How to support opportunities for science talk, such as sharing observations and data from different stations, and supporting claims in scientific arguments using evidence during these activities, will be examined. In addition, the effects of scientific discourse opportunities on students’ engagement, motivation and learning will be examined.

The third phase will focus on disseminating findings through national and local organizations, such as the Metropolitan Education Research Consortium, which connects the VCU School of Education with seven local school divisions to plan and conduct research that addresses school and community needs. The findings also will be shared in manuscripts in journals and national academic presentations.

The study will aim to answer three research questions: What funds of knowledge — culturally-based resources, knowledge, and experiences of minority students — do students bring to bear, and how can these be productively integrated to support participation in authentic scientific discourse? What are the ways in which students connect cognitively, motivationally and socially to science learning when participating in authentic scientific discourse within urban classrooms? And what progress do students make in key aspects of scientific discourse and their science learning?

The grant was awarded through the NSF’s Discovery Research PreK-12 (or DRK-12) program, which seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

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RPS to close January 27th after more than 700 teachers request off to attend Fund Our Future rally

Richmond Public Schools may be closed today for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, but next week will also be a four day week for students and teachers after more than 700 faculty members requested off work to protest at the Fund Our Future rally at the State Capitol.

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Richmond Public Schools may be closed today for the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, but next week will also be a four day week for students and teachers after more than 700 faculty members requested off work to protest at the Fund Our Future rally at the State Capitol.

The rally, to be held Monday, January 27th, will see educators from across the Commonwealth descend upon the Capitol to advocate for more state funding for schools.

RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras sent a note out on the school system’s website explaining that he was “proud” of the level of participation and that it would simply be impossible to find enough substitute teachers to cover for those attending the rally:

Dear RPS Family,

I’m reaching out to share an important change in our school calendar: RPS will be CLOSED on Monday, January 27. Please allow me to explain.

On that day, the Virginia Education Association (VEA) is hosting a “Fund Our Future” rally at the State Capitol to advocate for increased school funding. Based on data we collected last week, it appears that nearly 700 (about a third) of our teachers will be taking personal leave to participate in the VEA rally. We are proud that so many of our educators will be turning out to advocate for RPS and all of Virginia’s public schools.

Unfortunately, however, it is simply not possible to secure enough substitutes for this many classrooms. As a result, non-participating teachers would face unreasonable class sizes that would make meaningful instruction nearly impossible and potentially create significant safety concerns.

Given this – and after conferring with the School Board – I have decided to close RPS on Monday, January 27.

I recognize doing so will create an unexpected childcare burden for our working families. On behalf of RPS, I sincerely apologize for this. I also want to acknowledge that some of our families face food insecurity and depend on school meals for their children. In light of this, our nutrition team will be preparing “to-go” bags for students to take home on Friday afternoon.

Please note that our school calendar includes extra time to account for inclement weather and other unforeseen circumstances. As a result, at this time, no additional days will need to be added to the calendar.

Thank you in advance for your understanding of this decision. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at jkamras@rvaschools.net.

With great appreciation,

Jason Kamras

Superintendent

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St. Gertrude School moving to Benedictine campus in Goochland, two to remain independent

The schools were once 400 feet apart in the Museum District and will soon be a mere 600 feet apart when St. Gertrude’s moves to Benedictine’s 50-acre campus in Goochland in 2021.

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St. Gertrude High School in the Museum District, an all-girls Catholic school, will soon join their male counterpart, Benedictine, in Goochland County.

The two schools made the joint announcement on Friday. While the two will remain single-sex and independent, the combined entity will be known as The Benedictine Schools of Richmond.

Full release from the two schools follows:

The future of Richmond Catholic secondary school education just became a lot brighter. Today, after many months of collaborative strategic planning, we are proud to announce:

The Benedictine Schools of Richmond

This newly-formed entity will unify these two pillars of Richmond’s Catholic community — Saint Gertrude High School and Benedictine College Preparatory — on the same campus. Both schools will retain their names and operate distinct, single-sex educational programs. Of equal importance, this formalization places both schools in strong positions for growth and program development.

Beginning in the 2021-22 school year, just in time for its Centennial Celebration, Saint Gertrude will begin relocating to the 50-acre property in Goochland County currently home to Benedictine Prep. The boys’ school will remain in its current facility. For the girls, a new, state-of-the-art academic building is being planned. Together, the schools will share a peaceful, modern, and sprawling campus including the campus’s new, world-class athletic facilities.

Our schools have long been united in our distinct missions and spirit, in our belief in the unique benefit of single-sex education, and in our educational philosophies rooted in the Rule of Saint Benedict. For the better part of a century, our schools even shared a city block. Where the schools were once located 400 feet apart in the Museum District, they’ll soon be just 600 feet apart in Goochland County.

Indeed, this announcement is about much more than a new home for Saint Gertrude. It is about strengthening the foundation of Catholic education for our young men and women, now and well into the future.

As the Sisters and the Monks began to discuss the possibilities of a new, formal partnership and co-location, we considered diligently this opportunity through the lens of our respective values, missions, and visions. Our Orders feel wholeheartedly that such a partnership meets that high bar.

As Benedictine has experienced since its move from downtown (and as Saint Gertrude will experience in the coming years), the Goochland location is ideal not only for reflection and peace, but also for growth and innovation in education. And while single-sex education will always be a cornerstone of our schools, such a partnership will foster an even closer and nurturing community through which we strengthen each other. Proximity will allow the schools to share in their long-standing traditions while maintaining each school’s distinctiveness.

We understand you may have questions about what this exciting announcement means for you and your family. We encourage you to join our Heads of School Sister Cecilia Dwyer, OSB (Saint Gertrude) and Mr. Jesse Grapes (Benedictine) as they welcome our communities for a series of Town Hall meetings.

Current Parents:
Tuesday, January 21, 5:30 p.m. at BCP
Wednesday, January 22, 7:30 a.m. at SGHS

Alumni/Friends:
Wednesday, January 22, 5:30 p.m. at SGHS
Thursday, January 23, 7:30 a.m. at BCP

Prospective Parents:
Thursday, January 23, 5:30 p.m. at SGHS
Friday, January 24, 7:30 a.m. at BCP

Members of either school community may attend whichever meeting best suits their schedule.

On behalf of the Monks and Sisters of our Benedictine Orders, we look forward to beginning this journey with you and with your beloved children.

Sr. Joanna Burley, OSB
Prioress
Benedictine Sisters of Virginia

Fr. Jonathan Licari, OSB
Canonical Administrator
Mother Mary of the Church Abbey

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Moody Middle School seventh-grader captures Henrico Schools’ divisionwide spelling title

Ananya Nanduru topped competitors from across Henrico County Tuesday night to become Henrico Schools’ 2020 Division-wide Spelling Bee champion.

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Ananya Nanduru topped competitors from across Henrico County Tuesday night to become Henrico Schools’ 2020 Division-wide Spelling Bee champion. The Moody Middle School seventh-grader won in Round 8 by correctly spelling “breviary,” a book of daily prayers, hymns, and psalms.

The contest features spelling champions from 46 HCPS elementary schools and 12 middle schools, and determines who will represent Henrico County Public Schools at the regional competition. Pocahontas Middle School sixth-grader Weston Kasberger was runner-up.

Among the words Nanduru spelled to win the title were “schadenfreude,” “tritium” and “kielbasa.”

With Nanduru’s win, Moody retains the spelling title and Henrico Schools’ spelling trophy. Last year’s champion, Vishnoy Vadakkancheri, was also a Moody student. The trophy, topped with a whimsical bee, was made possible by a donation from four-time Henrico spelling champion Tejas Muthusamy. Muthusamy, now a student at Maggie Walker Governor’s School, donated money for the trophy to the Henrico Education Foundation, which had the trophy made.

Nanduru will compete next in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Regional Spelling Bee March 21 at the Library of Virginia. The regional winner will advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which is held in late May and televised by ESPN.

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