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Teacher spends summer at Md. academy

August 06, 2000

Teacher spends summer at Md. academy



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RYAN ANSON / staff photographer

Laura UnruhA Hagerstown teacher spent part of her summer as a homework-saddled student.

Laura Unruh, who teaches second grade science and health at Pangborn Elementary, in July participated in the 2000 Governor's Academy for Science and Mathematics.

"Maryland can be proud to have the kind of educators who were there," said Unruh, who was one of about 70 elementary, middle and high school educators who attended the three-week academy at Towson State University in Baltimore County.

Only about half of the academy's applicants are accepted each year, according to the state Department of Education Web site.

"I learned a lot of information," said Unruh, of Rockville, Md. "It was so intense...but anything that's going to make an impact is going to be a lot of work."

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The academy's mission is to improve students' math and science performance in state assessment programs by providing their teachers with instructional and staff development plans, according to the Web site.

Other goals of the academy include integration of science, math and other subject areas with real-life situations, and the creation of a statewide teachers' network to promote excellence in science and mathematics education, Unruh said.

Academy participants attended classes from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, did two to three hours worth of homework each night, and completed a major project, two minor projects and two rigorous exams, she said.

Unruh spent her mornings studying physics and her afternoons in seminars targeted at strengthening leadership skills, gaining an understanding of science and math as integrated fields of study, using technology in the classroom, and familiarizing educators with state and national reform initiatives, she said.

The graduate-level courses, which also included astronomy and biochemistry, were taught by professors from several state colleges and universities.

Participants earned nine graduate credits and received a a $1,000 stipend for attending the academy. Unruh's credits move her closer to her doctorate degree, she said.

The academy was tough but worthwhile, said Unruh, who is a firm believer in holding teachers and schools accountable for student education.

"I'm really involved with school reform for the state of Maryland," she said. "I feel we need to take a good look at what we're doing with our schools. If what we're doing isn't working, we need to change it."

Unruh has familiarized herself with "inner workings" of state reform plans by serving as a consultant writer for the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) and by spending an entire summer hand-checking thousands of the MSPAP tests, she said.

But the 29-year veteran of the Washington County school system said the academy experience made her "realize the magnitude of the mission we have ahead of us."

Unruh looks forward to sharing her newfound knowledge with her students with her windfall of new teaching tools, and through hands-on projects and analytical and problem-solving exercises, she said.

The teacher wants to make science more meaningful to her students, and show them that it can be fun, she said.

"It's going to be a whole different approach to science and math," said Unruh, who will share information with her colleagues during an October presentation at the Maryland Conference for Mathematics and Science Teachers in Washington, D.C.

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