October 2011

Grants aim to enhance STEM education in middle and high schools


As we all know, we are experiencing a national crisis in education – and science education specifically. Student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics has declined steadily since the mid-1960s (1). In addition, persistence in the STEM fields also has been on the decline, with minority groups experiencing a higher percent of STEM field attrition; about 50 percent drop out or change majors (2). As a nation, we are watching our competitive edge in science, engineering and technology slip away to other developed countries and to some developing countries (3). How are we as a nation to compete if the next generation is behind? As a scientific community, it is our duty to strap on our boots and to get on the ground to make sure the future of our country is secure.

One initiative pioneered by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, with some support from the National Science Foundation, is called Hands-on Opportunities to Promote Engagement in Science (HOPES). Led by the society’s Minority Affairs and Education and Professional Development committees, the initiative began with a workshop at the annual meeting in April in Washington, D.C. There, middle- and high-school teachers were brought together with research scientists from the D.C. area to promote partnerships and to give educators seeking ways to enhance their teaching by incorporating hands-on classroom activities the opportunity to meet and connect with partners in this endeavor.

The workshop 

On the morning of April 9, workshop participants spent three hours hearing about partnership models, taking part in hands-on activities and networking with potential partners. The workshop had three goals. First, it aimed to remove one of the barriers – not knowing one another – that prevents collaboration between teachers and scientists. Second, it aimed to give participants examples of successful partnerships as potential models for collaborative efforts. And, third, it offered NSF funds, in the form of seed grants, for 10 teachers to encourage and support the development of partnerships and classroom activities.

The proposal evaluation process 

More than 50 applications from teachers and scientists from across the country were received. A panel of four reviewers, two from the MAC and two from the EPD, reviewed and ranked the applications. Impact was judged based on the project rationale, the actual inquiry-based activity plan, feasibility and sustainability, and the direct effects on students. In addition, the project description, strength of the partnership and letters of support were evaluated. The final criterion used was the plan for assessment of the project. A long-term goal of the initiative is to encourage continued partnerships with scientists and teachers across the country. The dissemination of these projects could provide ideas, making assessments very valuable.

The awardees 

 STEM_Adams_Sandra   STEM_Durso_Richard 
Adams Durso

The 10 recipients of $2,000 seed grants and their partners are listed below:

Sandra Adams of Montclair State University (Montclair, N.J.) in partnership with Ronald Durso of Fair Lawn High School (Fair Lawn, N.J.). Durso is the K – 8 technology supervisor and 9 – 12 science supervisor at Fair Lawn. The project, titled “Integrating molecular biology research techniques into the high school science classroom,” will engage more than 150 students in grades nine through 12 annually in basic molecular biology methods while they participate in inquiry-based, hypothesis-driven activities.

 STEM_Janet_Bisogno   STEM_Dominique_Shimizu 
Bisogno Shimizu

Mary Jo Koroli of the University of Florida Center for Precollegiate Education and Training (Gainesville, Fla.) in partnership with biology teacher Janet Bisogno of Celebration High School (Celebration, Fla). The project, titled “Teach tech: increasing the use of biotechnology in high school science classrooms,” will help purchase equipment for the school’s biology students and support basic hands-on experiments. Bisogno’s colleague Dominique Shimizu will assist with professional development activities.

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