Shell Knob, MO — On cold January days, some seventh graders in this southwest Missouri town shared experiences of cold homes and drafty rooms. Their complaints sparked an idea for science teacher Jeanette Mullis, and the kids rapidly warmed to it.

Each year for three summers Mullis had attended workshops made possible by federal Improving Teacher Quality Grants administered by the Missouri Department of Higher Education. Mullis attended workshops conducted by Lynda Plymate and Kurt Killion, math professors, and Cheryl Schaefer, physics and astronomy professor, at Missouri State University.

The workshops helped teachers find active learning opportunities, especially in schools that are considered high need such as Shell Knob, where the poverty level exceeds 20 percent and many students score poorly on standardized math and science tests.

Mullis used her students' discussion of drafty homes to experiment with various insulating materials, densities and composition, measuring their effects on "houses" the students constructed out of milk cartons. Mullis says since she began applying the knowledge she acquired in the workshops, student scores on standardized science tests have been higher than state average.

On Thursday, the Missouri Department of Higher Education provided Improving Teacher Quality Grants to four projects totaling $625,000. Recipients are:

  • $150,000 — Boosting Bootheel Mathematics, Dr. Cheri Fuemmeler and Dr. Mary Ann Deline, Southeast Missouri State University

  • $159,946 — Building and Connecting Math Concepts Through In-Depth and Technology Rich Explorations, Dr. Lynda Plymate, Missouri State University, and Dr. Jan VanGilder, Southwest Center for Educational Excellence

  • $137,587 — Empowering Elementary Missouri Mathematics Teaching Teams, Dr. Rita Barger, University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Ann McCoy, University of Central Missouri

  • $160,000 — Teacher Enhancement for Active Middle School Science, Phase 2, Dr. Elizabeth Stoddard and Dr. Louis Odom, University of Missouri-Kansas City

Plymate says the grant projects she has administered promote the use of inquiry in classroom projects and build teacher confidence. "There was less emphasis on statistics and data analysis in the education curriculum when many of today's teachers went to school," Plymate says. "We provide them with tools, technology and the expertise to use them effectively for both math and science explorations. Every time you give teachers extra depth and understanding, they become better teachers."

Jan LaFevers applies what she learned in Plymate's workshops to her math class in Reeds Spring.

"One that is always a hit is dealing with proportions and scaling objects to be smaller or larger," LaFevers says. "For example, for proportion, we will go outside and measure shadows to find the height of a tree. If weather does not permit, then we use a flash light and my bonsai tree in the classroom to simulate the sun rising and setting. The scaling process can involve anything from finding the distance on a map to arranging furniture in a room."

But LaFevers says the most useful thing she learned through the Improving Teacher Quality Grant workshops is how to guide kids through inquiry. "Teaching them how to think about problems is the basis for everything," LaFevers says. As proof, her students' standardized test scores climbed significantly after she implemented her workshop training in class.

To learn more about Improving Teacher Quality Grants, visit the MDHE Website at: www.dhe.mo.gov/teacherquality.html