College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University

VISTA in Action - Teacher Inspires Students with Science

January 3, 2013

"We are the future of the rest of our planet," says second grader Juliet. With great seriousness and impressive facts, she and her fellow 7 and 8-year-olds go on to describe how a warming planet is affecting squirrels, snakes, bats, and penguins.

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The students are in Laurie Goss's second grade class at Taylor Elementary, a newly designated STEM school in Arlington, Virginia. Goss created a problem-based learning unit on climate change after taking part in professional development offered by VISTA (Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement), a collaborative state-wide project led by George Mason University's College of Education and Human Development.

Click here to watch the video.

Mrs. Goss challenged her class with the following problem: How can we protect plants and animals in their habitats from the effects of climate change? The results of their inquiry are featured in a short video from Arlington Public Schools.

In describing their projects, the students talk with ease about fossil fuels, threats, the food cycle, extinction, habitats, and collaboration, expressing a level of understanding for a complex issue that is amazing to see.

"The engagement level was huge," said Goss. "They acted like scientists. They did the work of scientists. Each day as we wrapped up a lesson, we would say, 'What work did we do today that real scientists do?' So they totally understood that the work going on in the classroom was the kind of work that real scientists do."

"From that, I have a level of excitement about science in my classroom that I've never had," said Goss. "My kids every day are telling me how much they love science. And so many of them now are looking forward to a career that involves science. It's been a really thrilling experience."

Acting as a catalyst for classroom teachers like Laurie Goss is what VISTA is all about. The project, now completing its second year, aims to increase elementary and secondary student performance in science using innovative problem-based learning techniques and inquiry-based teaching methods that pilot studies have shown to be successful.

Along the way, students are also getting excited about a career in science -- an added bonus! As second grader Ryan notes, "It's important to know about climate change when you're a kid, so if you want to fight climate change when you're an adult, you can be a scientist and help."

About CEHD

George Mason University's College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) includes two schools, the Graduate School of Education, which is the largest in Virginia, and the School of Recreation, Health, and Tourism. CEHD offers a comprehensive range of degrees, courses, licensures, and professional development programs on campus, online, and on site. The college is distinguished by faculty who encourage new ways of thinking and pioneering research supported by more than $75 million in funding over the past five years.


The Virginia Initiative for Science Teaching and Achievement (VISTA) is a statewide partnership among 60+ Virginia school districts, six Virginia universities, and the Virginia Department of Education. Its goal is to translate research-based best teaching practices into improved science teaching and student learning for all students at all levels. VISTA is funded by a five-year, $34 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education through the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, which includes a $5.7 million private sector matching requirement. To learn more, visit

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