Monday, August 2, 2010
Exhibit Hall A, David L Lawrence Convention Center
Research grant proposals to the National Science Foundation are judged not only on the intellectual merit of the proposed research, but also on the broader impacts of the work. Successful proposals often include educational outreach components, in which faculty and students endeavor to share their science and research with K–12 students and teachers. This is commonly done through classroom visits involving lectures and demonstrations. These activities can be very valuable, but how can we move beyond the lectures and demonstrations to actually involve students and teachers in scientific research?
Here we offer examples and suggestions based on our work with the University of Tennessee GK–12 Earth Project. Funded by NSF, our project seeks to increase science interest and knowledge among students in rural middle schools of east Tennessee by placing advanced graduate students into classrooms as content experts and model scientists who work with teachers to develop and implement hands-on science activities. A particular interest of our project has been giving students and teachers authentic research experiences. We have developed several successful student research projects in ecology and paleoecology that we describe to provide ideas to grant proposers and others interested in developing research-related K–12 outreach. These projects include ecological investigation of a campus wetland; analysis of modern pollen rain as recorded by schoolyard pollen traps; extraction and quantification of charcoal in soil cores as an indicator of fire history; and paleoecological and taphonomic analysis of a fossil exposure. We also provide examples and suggestions for involving school teachers in summer field and laboratory research, as a means of increasing their science content knowledge, understanding of research methodology, and comfort with open-ended inquiry. The teachers we have involved in research report a feeling of increased authority as teachers of science that has positively impacted their teaching and their ability to interest students in science.