There are many ways to teach science. The National Science Education Standards remind us that "science is an active process. Learning science is something that students do, not something that is done to them" (p. 2). Inquiry is central to science learning. When engaged in inquiry, students ask questions, describe objects and events, construct explanations, test explanations against what is known, and communicate their ideas to others.
The NERDS Institute combines a focus on professional development in science teaching with research in science education. Participants are asked to participate in the research by completing questionnaires and volunteering for short interviews throughout the process. The NERDS Institute is dedicated to helping teachers develop their skills in teaching science through the process of inquiry.
Every NERDS Institute course is designed to lead teachers, step by step, from "expert"-designed investigations to student-centered investigations through an active process of participation. The pre-session at the University introduces teachers to the NERDS Model and allows time for preliminary research data to be collected.
The pre-sessions prepare participants to go into the field with a shared understanding of the inquiry process. Benchmark lesson activities take place in each pre-session which increase skills in measurement, experimental design, data collection, and use of technology.
The field experience portion of the courses takes teachers away from familiar ecosystems near their hometown into unfamiliar territory where they must start their learning from scratch, similar to what their students must experience every time a new concept is taught. Teachers learn skills such as orienteering, sampling methods and using keys to identify organisms, which support the science inquiry process. In small groups, teachers plan and carry out investigations in the field and communicate their results to the larger group. Upon returning home, teachers submit individual reports of the small group investigations. They also plan and carry out a science inquiry experience in their respective classrooms.
The post-sessions focus on assessment of the inquiry process, sharing unit plans, grade-level curriculum connections, and developing strategies for application of the NERDS experience in the classroom.