Emory Report
February 6, 2006
Volume 58, Number 18


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February 6, 2006
$2M grant will let PRISM program shine through 2011

By Beverly Cox Clark

Emory has been awarded nearly $2 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to continue an innovative science education program that pairs graduate students in the sciences with K–12 teachers. Known as PRISM (Problems and Research to Integrate Science and Mathematics), the program engages K–12 students in science studies and provides opportunities for graduate students to develop as teachers and communicators.

PRISM was initially funded by the NSF in 2003, and the new grant will support the program through 2011. Since its inception, PRISM has partnered with 39 teachers in 13 middle and high schools around the metro Atlanta area. More than 100 new curriculum units, using real-world applications to teach science basics, have been developed and taught to more than 2000 K-12 students.

“We’re working to create a ‘compelling need to know’ within students by actively bringing the excitement of science to them through hands-on experiments and instruction,” said Jordan Rose, PRISM program coordinator for Emory’s Center for Science Education (CSE).

The faculty who developed PRISM—chemistry Professor Jay Justice, Center for Science Education Director Pat Marsteller, and Preetha Ram, Emory’s assistant dean for science education—say they are convinced it has a positive effect on graduate students, teachers and schoolchildren.

“Problem- and investigative case-based learning is an important trend in education because it helps students make a strong connection with science concepts by demonstrating how real and integrated it is in our lives,” Marsteller said. “In the process, students also gain critical thinking and research skills.”

For example, one sixth grade class learned concepts in chemistry and biology through an investigation of air and water quality in Atlanta. The experience even prompted the students to write to Georgia legislators and the governor about the relationship between air pollution and asthma, and request stronger regulation.
Eighteen teachers are participating this year, developing diverse lesson plans with their graduate-student partners. Case studies include an investigation of infection control that involves swabbing surfaces at the school to find and identify different types of bacteria. Another lesson teaches students basic principles of engineering by having them build model planes.

PRISM recently launched a Web site called CASES Online (www.cse.emory.edu/cases) that is a collection of the inquiry-based lessons for use in K–12, undergraduate and graduate science education. Educators can search CASES Online for a varied sample of cases appropriate to different grade levels, subjects and topics of interest, as well as download materials for use in the classroom. The cases address a variety of learning objectives across the sciences and meet state and national K–12 science education standards.

PRISM graduate fellows come from a variety of mathematics and science doctoral programs at Emory and Clark Atlanta University. “Our graduate fellows overwhelmingly report that they are more confident teachers, improved communicators, better team players and more committed partners with K–12 educators,” Rose said.

The CSE is in the midst of doing a comparison study of recent science test scores, and preliminary results from one school show some improvement. Anecdotally, many teachers have reported that students who previously were flunking or struggling with science are now making Cs and Bs.
For more information on PRISM, go to www.cse.emory.edu/prism/index.html.