Education Professor Helps Land $1.37 Million Research Grant

National Science Foundation funds science education development project

Brooke Whitworth

OXFORD, Miss. – What started as a dissertation has turned into a $1.37 million grant project funded by the National Science Foundation that may help improve professional development for science educators across the nation.

Brooke Whitworth, assistant professor of science education at the University of Mississippi, is helping lead this effort, which started with her doctoral studies at the University of Virginia.

The project, Science Coordinators Advancing a Framework for Outstanding Leadership Development, or SCAFFOLD, is an exploratory study that will develop, implement and evaluate a professional development program for district science coordinators. Whitworth is working on the project with researchers at the University of Georgia.

“My dissertation research at the University of Virginia looked at science coordinators and examined who they were, what work they were doing and how they supported teachers,” Whitworth explained. “Now, based on that work, we’re creating professional development specifically for science coordinators to support them in their practices.”

Whitworth is collaborating with Julie Luft, athletic association professor of mathematics and science education at Georgia, on the project. Together, Whitworth and Luft bring different experiences and knowledge to address the problem of improving science teacher learning.

“Dr. Whitworth has expertise in the cultivation of science teacher-leaders, while I have expertise in science teachers in the classroom,” Luft said. “We complement each other in this project, which is one reason the project was funded.”

Over the next four years, Whitworth and Luft will plan, design and deliver new professional development courses to science coordinators in Georgia. They will then observe those coordinators in their districts and evaluate how they work with teachers to determine if the training had an impact on their practices as an instructional leader.

“Oftentimes, the district science coordinator is just a teacher that someone has identified as ‘good,'” Whitworth said. “They get hired into a district-level administrative job, but they’re not necessarily trained in what good professional development is.

“Yet, district science coordinators choose the professional development that science teachers participate in, but they don’t necessarily have training on how to coach a teacher and give feedback, which is a big part of their job.”

Whitworth will bring $516,884 to Ole Miss for research and design of new professional development courses for district science coordinators. Through this project, Whitworth is hoping to create a lasting impact on how district science coordinators do their job.

“If we train these science coordinators well, and they have an impact on teachers, then we can focus on training those individuals in order to have a larger impact on teachers,” Whitworth said.

Whitworth received her undergraduate degree in chemistry from William Jewell College and a master’s degree in secondary education from Wake Forest University. She also holds a doctorate in science education from the University of Virginia.

“Dr. Whitworth is one of the leaders in the field when it comes to science teacher leadership,” Luft said. “Already in her short tenure as an academic, she has made her mark in the science education community.”

Whitworth began teaching in the UM Department of Teacher Education in 2017. Before moving to Oxford, she taught science education at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. She also taught high school science in North Carolina and Hawaii for nine years.

 

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