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Grant will change SC science education
KINGSTON A University of Rhode Island professor has been awarded a five year, $1.3 million federal grant to help turn Southern Rhode Island elementary and middle school children into junior scientists.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the "Guiding Education in Math and Science Education Network" was developed by Betty Young, URI associate professor of education, and a team of URI scientists and state educators.
The project's goal is to provide a hands-on science curriculum to public school teachers in East Greenwich, Exeter-West Greenwich, Jamestown, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, and Westerly.
This past Wednesday, Young hosted the first scientist-teacher workshops at URI. Training will continue until May 14.
"This project is an effort to change the very infrastructure of science education by guaranteeing outstanding science experiences for all children in the six districts," Young said.
The project involves 40 URI scientists acting as mentors and trainers for teachers. These scientists will train the teachers one-on-one, and the teachers will in turn return to their schools and train their colleagues.
Young noted that some teachers may be reticent to change their existing science curriculum. The science kits created by her project, however, are engaging for both student and teacher alike. "It creates a wonderful atmosphere in their classrooms," she said.
The science project also gives teachers the incentive to investigate new technologies, such as the internet. "It helps them see teaching not just being a separate thing, but as a tool to look at data and increase communication," Young commented. Through the Internet, or example, teachers and students an connect to national science projects.
According to Young. preliminary testing of the new science kits has shown excellent results. "It's astounding what you see kids understanding in terms of scientific principles." She cited a third grade class that was working with a science kit about water. The students learned about evaporation, how to make thermometers, and water quality testing.
After the students completed the unit, "they had this whole new vocabulary that actually meant something to them," Young said. Moreover, the program was good for kids "at all ends of the learning spectrum," not just the brightest.
URI's partnership with the public schools will last until the grant runs out in 2003. After that, Young noted, the program should evolve within the individual schools. "We're looking at ways to build expertise within the six districts," she said.
The current project will impact over 11,000 students in Southern Rhode Island. Young said that there is a similar partnership between Rhode Island College and schools on the East Bay. Eventually, Young would like to work with schools in Providence.
"The teacher training is a tall order" she said, "and it must proven first. Once it's up and running, then I'd like to work some of the urban districts in Providence."