Chatsworth Elementary first school in US to receive foundation's Excellence in Science Teaching Award

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Ryan Anderson, The Daily Citizen, Dalton, Ga.
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Apr. 27—CHATSWORTH — The first school in America to receive the International Science Teaching Foundation Excellence in Science Teaching Award is Chatsworth Elementary School, based on sixth-grade teacher Amber Richards' success utilizing the foundation's Science Bits digital curriculum with her students.

"This award is more than recognition; it's encouragement to keep fighting to give students science education, meet students where they are, and help them grow," said Richards, who has been a teacher at Chatsworth Elementary for six years. This work is "crucial to the futures" of countless youth, because "science ties everything together, and I want to help students see those connections."

For Chatsworth Elementary to be the first school in the U.S. to earn this award "is phenomenal," said Steve Loughridge, superintendent of Murray County Schools. It confirms Chatsworth Elementary as a "leader in this (school system), region and the state."

It took eight years to create the Science Bits curriculum, which is now used by more than 500,000 students in more than 30 countries, said Hector Martin, founder and director of the International Science Teaching Foundation. "It is literally learning science by doing science."

When Richards began teaching, she quickly discovered students "need to read, write and do science to really understand science," she said. Science Bits doesn't "front-load a bunch of facts they have to memorize, (but, instead) introduces them to concepts where they are, (then) they build on their (knowledge) and make connections."

"They learn it instead of me telling them what to learn, so they're more motivated," and they retain knowledge rather than losing it, she said. "It's a phenomenal resource."

With "inquiry and exploration, they're really engaged, and the lessons are differentiated to each student," said Kathy Moore, the school's principal. From "excelling students to struggling learners" and everyone in between, Science Bits "takes it to their level."

Students who utilize Science Bits increase their grades an average of 20% over conventional instruction, Richards said. And that's true "across the board," even with students for whom English is a second language and "students classified as special education."

On benchmark tests used throughout the year, students "never regress, (but) increase every time," she said. Science Bits "really challenges them — no cutting corners — and they (retain the content) because it all connects."

In addition to the plaque presented to Richards and the school on April 16 from the foundation, it gifted Richards a lab coat in recognition of her "excellence in science teaching," Martin said. Richards and the school "have used Science Bits so well over the last four years."

Richards will wear her lab coat with pride "every day we do a lab," she said. "I'm truly honored."

Students, current and former, "inspire me to continue doing what I'm doing," she added. With the inquiry-based model she teaches, "science is a level playing field where every student can feel successful."

It is "our sincere hope many of you (students) will be sufficiently engaged in science you will (work) careers in science and make the world a better place," Martin said. "Science is the best tool we have to understand the world, take care of our planet, and take care of ourselves."

"We're very excited for this honor," Loughridge said. "Science is one of the first loves I had — my first degree is in science — and science spurs interest (as long as) you're engaged with it."

Science Bits and Richards provide that engagement, and "science is a fascinating field," he added. "These are the future scientists of our city, state and nation."