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Community Resources for Science (CRS)

Community Resources for Science (CRS) is focused on the problem of teaching science – emphasizing critical thinking, development of hypotheses, and supporting claims with evidence. Through this program based in the San Francisco Bay Area, elementary and middle school teachers can receive specialized guidance and resources to help them make their science classes more engaging and to introduce these key tenets of scientific practice. Graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and other volunteers are trained to lead demonstrations and to guide students through experiments to instill these core principles. Lessons are designed to align with the Next Generation Science Standards. ASBMB contacted Teresa Barnett, executive director of CRS, to learn more about this program.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the main mission of CRS?
Our mission is to empower teachers to overcome the challenges and barriers to teaching science to young students. CRS grew out of conversations with teachers in 1997 as an organization working to meet the needs teachers identified. Early on, teachers began asking for scientists who could visit their classrooms and not just talk about science, but could do science with their students. And, so our BASIS (Bay Area Scientists in Schools) program was born. What began with a handful of grad students in one professor's lab group has now grown into a volunteer program that involves over 500 scientists and engineers who engage in science learning with 10,000 students each year, serving as diverse enthusiastic STEM role models. The BASIS program is the largest part of our work.

Why is CRS approach unique?
First, we focus on our role as a connector. We maintain relationships with hundreds of science education support organizations, both large and small, and aim to be the go-to resource for teachers. We can provide teachers with information, resources, suggestions for field trips, and we connect them with scientists who come into their classrooms. Second, we help teachers to improve no matter what their current individual level of skill, comfort, and confidence with STEM material. Of the 1,350 teachers we worked with in the 2014-2015 academic year, 300 received personalized support from CRS and 450 classrooms featured lessons led by BASIS volunteers.

Who are your volunteers?
The vast majority are scientists or engineers by training and profession. About 450 of our 550 active volunteers are graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at the University of California, Berkeley, and the remaining volunteers are from industry partners whose employees volunteer with us. Our industry teams may include people from across the company, such as in public relations and human resources, who work together with scientists on teams to present lessons. These volunteers help emphasize the importance of being STEM literate even if they are not themselves bench scientists or engineers.

What can scientists and ASBMB members do to help?
Most of our scientist volunteers lead lessons in classrooms. We hold orientation sessions for our volunteers that provide an overview of the program and encourage them to form a team. These teams are generally divided into groups of friends, a lab group, or co-workers. Most of our BASIS volunteer teams prefer to design their own lesson plans, and we provide coaching through the process as a team develops a specific lesson that they would like to present. We can also provide a lesson, already put together in a completed kit, if the team prefers. We have over 80 such lessons available. That option is popular for our volunteers coming from industry employers, as their schedules are less flexible.

The BASIS teams then tell us when they are available. A typical team will do ten 1-hour visits per school year. Some teams will schedule visits once a month, potentially in multiple classrooms, and others will do visits more frequently over a shorter time period.

We have some volunteers that have already developed an activity/lesson and they ask us to partner with them to arrange the logistics for visits to specific classrooms. We also have other ways for volunteers to participate, such as at through CRS outreach events or other one-time projects.

 

What resources do you provide teachers? What do they find useful?
In addition to the BASIS program, CRS provides a range of support for classroom teachers including timely information, on-call personalized planning support, professional development, events, and online resources. Teachers appreciate the opportunity to observe BASIS volunteers engaging students in hands-on, inquiry learning and to better understand how scientists and engineers approach problems. We have more teachers who want BASIS volunteers in their classes than we can handle, and so we would love to have more volunteers.

Now that engineering has been added to the Next Generation Science Standards, our teachers are very interested in learning about the engineering design process. We offer lessons in engineering as well as in science, so teachers are able to select the lessons that are most needed in their own classrooms.

We also offer professional development workshops for teachers. These workshops help them to better understand STEM materials and to see how the engineering design process differs from basic science. This enables teachers to be even more confident in their teaching in the future.

How effective are your programs? Can you measure the impacts you have on students?
Educational research supports the idea that by increasing teacher skill, confidence, and knowledge you improve outcomes for students. The vast majority of teachers we work with indicate that having BASIS volunteers in their classrooms helps them to see their students engaged in learning in new ways, motivates them to increase the amount of science they teach, increases their content knowledge, and increases their confidence and motivation.

The data we have focuses on our teachers, which is where we have the most opportunity to measure impact. With students, measuring impact rigorously is difficult. However, an external evaluation of CRS found that participating students demonstrate the skills we hope to foster (critical thinking, problem solving, etc.) and are engaged during their lessons.

The full list of extensive internal, and external, program evaluation information we have is available on the CRS website for further reading.

What are your biggest challenges at CRS? How have you overcome them?
Our greatest programmatic challenge is keeping up with the rapidly growing demand from teachers for more scientists to visit their classrooms to make BASIS presentations. We are reaching out to more employers in STEM related businesses, particularly as we add more teacher members to our network. Our greatest organizational challenge, like most non-profits, is sustaining funding for our work. We are over 80% grant funded from foundations and donors. We do not have large scale government grant funding, such as from the NSF, to help us sustain CRS.

Why should scientists and ASBMB members get involved with programs like yours?
If the Next Generation Science Standards are to succeed in changing the way science and engineering are taught, by providing students with real-world connections and experience with the practices of science and engineering, it will take the support of STEM professionals. Working with us is also an important way to help prepare the future generation of problem-solvers, researchers, leaders, and inventors.

Our volunteers consistently report that they leave the classrooms they visit re-invigorated and reminded of the joy of science that led them into STEM careers. They develop their skills in teamwork, and they develop their skills in communicating about their science to non-scientists. Explaining your research to eight-year olds is a significant challenge, but it helps to make STEM professionals better at sharing their research with a broader audience.

Please contact Teresa Barnett [teresa@crscience.org] if you would like to be involved with this program.