February 17, 2003

NSF grants $1.5M for new approach to science education

By Michael Terrazas mterraz@emory.edu

Three professors have jointly received a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a program that will match graduate students with working middle and high school teachers to promote science and mathematics education and develop skills that will help the graduate students become better scientists themselves.

Jay Justice, professor and chair of chemistry; Pat Marstellar, director of the college Center for Science Education; and Preetha Ram, senior lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in chemistry, will direct a program matching up “collegial teams” of area teachers and graduate students (and, soon, undergraduates) that in turn will create teaching models focused on “big ideas” in science and math.

Using problem-based learning (PBL) and investigative case-based learning (ICBL), the program hopes to use real-world applications as a way to teach the basics of science to students, Marstellar said.

“Instead of focusing on minutia, the students will learn detail through concepts,” Marstellar said. “So if you’re going to learn about chemistry, you might learn through looking at water quality issues, for example.”

Beginning this summer, 10 graduate students will be paired with teachers from four in-town school districts (DeKalb, Fulton, Atlanta and Decatur).

Participation in a summer institute will familiarize the graduate students with urban education, and they also will receive instruction in PBL and ICBL pedagogy. Then, in the fall, the pairs will put their ideas into practice at the teachers’ respective schools.

“Our work with PBL and ICBL has demonstrated it is possible to get undergraduate students excited about learning science,” Ram said. “We hope to bring that same engagement and excitement into middle and high school classrooms.”

Graduate students will receive $21,400 for a one-year commitment, which requires spending 10 hours per week with teachers and in planning and preparation. Teachers selected to participate will receive compensation for the summer institute and for mentoring and monitoring the graduate students. Undergraduates, who Marstellar said will be incorporated into the program after it gets off the ground, also will receive stipends.

“This is an exciting opportunity for graduate students and complements their professional development opportunities in undergraduate education,” Justice said.

“Participating graduate students will develop skills in teamwork required for interdisciplinary science collaboration that leads to success in modern scientific research,” Marstellar said. “They also will learn to communicate science effectively to a broader audience.”

Interested graduate and undergraduate students should contact Marstellar at pmars@learnlink.emory.edu or Ram at pram@emory.edu.






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