Science

Science “Ambassadors” in Maryland Elementary Schools

By Sean Cavanagh — August 31, 2009 1 min read

An interesting attempt to bring more specialization, and presumably more expertise, to science teaching is occurring in suburban Washington. The schools in Montgomery County, Md., with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, are seeking to put a “highly trained” science teacher in each of the system’s 130 elementary schools. The idea is to place a “go-to” person in each elementary school as an “ambassador” to other teachers on science. In most elementary schools today, teachers are generalists, covering all subjects, and they may have scant knowledge of science.

I’m not sure if all students in a school would be routed through these ambassadors for their science lessons, or if these specialists would simply help their elementary school peers teach science on their own. I’ve written about schools’ interest in creating elementary math specialists, or content experts in that subject, who can give students a solid foundation in math. The Montgomery County program, called the Elementary Science Leadership Program, seems to have a similar intent.

This effort is an outgrowth of a Hughes-supported effort in the 1980s to strengthen the science curriculum in Montgomery County’s elementary schools, which placed a greater emphasis on hands-on experiments and the scientific process. Participating teachers in the new effort are given training and money to pay for class equipment, according to the institute.

One barrier to using subject-matter specialists in elementary schools, at least as it’s been explained to me, is cost. If a school is forced to keep its current stable of generalists, and then add a specialist, that’s an extra financial burden for the district, especially when you’re talking about paying for those specialists across an entire system. If you’re in a school district that has experimented with specialists in math or science, perhaps you’re a part of an alternative approach that keeps costs low. If so, I’d love to hear about it.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.