The Practical Interface: PA STEP and Pennsylvania Teachers

Article excerpt

The Practical Interface: PA STEP and Pennsylvania Teachers

It is common to hear the term "computer revolution" applied to many aspects of life, but consider what answer a teacher can give when asked, "What is the proper role of the microcomputer in modern science education?"

One answer might be found in the presentation of interactive tutorials in which the student is asked questions. Simulation of both lecture and laboratory material is also possible. Now many teachers in Pennsylvania have discovered a third, and possibly more relevant, use of high technology in their laboratories: computer interfacing.

How many students (or teachers) have ever seen sound? Have they observed a graphic display of the difference between fluorescent and incandescent light? What factors will affect reaction time when measured to the nearest thousandth of a second? What experiments are possible when one has a temperature sensor that will plot a graphics point every half-second?

Least Understood

Computer interfacing allows the teachers to show visual representations of real-world phenomena that cannot be shown otherwise with common available equipment. But it is perhaps the least understood use of the microcomputer. This is understandable when one thinks of the seeming complexity of digital electronics and advanced programming. Yet, after a mere 15 hours of instruction each, more than 650 teachers in Pennsylvania have gained new confidence and drive toward using interfacing with their students.

How has high technology such as this become available to so many educators in one state? The answer lies in the willingness of the legislators in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide funding for teacher-education courses. The interfacing course is one of a number offered through the continually evolving Pennsylvania Science Teacher Education Program, or PA STEP. This distinctive program serves the needs of science and mathematics teachers across the state of Pennsylvania through a network of colleges, universities and intermediate units. Funding for the program is provided by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. (PHEAA).

PA STEP was developed in 1983 by PHEAA under the direction of Dr. Kenneth Mechling of Clarion University of Pennsylvania, with input from the Pennsylvania Science Teacher Association (PSTA). Its purpose is to bolster the science-teaching skills of classroom professionals across Pennsylvania.

Mechling and PSTA conducted a statewide survey of teachers of science (K-12) that disclosed three major areas of inservice need. At the elementary school level, teachers reported the need for help in teaching hands-on science using easy-to-obtain materials. Secondly, teachers were concerned about the support for science education from elementary school administrators. The secondary science teachers from the survey reported the need for effective inservice coursework in the use of the microcomputer as an instructional tool.

These findings led to the formation of PA STEP. The program began offering graduate-level inservice courses to teachers during 1983/84 at 14 Pennsylvania colleges and universities and at the 29 Pennsylvania intermediate units.

During the first year, three courses were offered to address the concerns of the state's teachers:

PIES, the Program for Improving Elementary Science, illustrated the use of hands-on science experiments for elementary education. The materials used in the program were inexpensie and commonly available.

PEELS, the Program for Enhancing Elementary Leadership in the Science, was addressed to teacher/principal teams. It emphasized the implementation of science methodology.

CORES, Computer Orientation for Reshaping Education in the Science, was designed to help secondary teachers use the microcomputer as a tool in their classrooms. The course stressed introductory programming in BASIC, the evaluation of commercially produced software, and use of the computer as a utility machine. …