$2.8 Million NSF Grant To Help CU-Boulder Researchers, Boulder Valley Teachers To 'Bring Science Out Of The Box' For Students

Published: April 23, 2008

The National Science Foundation has awarded the University of Colorado at Boulder School of Education a $2.8 million grant that will allow graduate students to collaborate with Boulder Valley School District teachers to "bring science out of the box" and inspire young students to follow in their footsteps toward science careers.

The NSF grant will support the CU-Boulder School of Education's innovative Science Discovery program. Under the five-year fellowship grant, nine graduate students will teach biology, chemistry, computer science, environmental science, geology, mathematics and physics to fourth-, fifth- and eighth-graders in 16 classrooms a year.

"It's giving teachers resources they would not have access to otherwise," said Jeffrey Kidder, the project's principal investigator, director of CU-Boulder's Science Discovery program and one of four faculty advisers who will help graduate students meet their teaching targets. "The fellows will expand on, and bring the science, out of the box."

Graduate students and university faculty from science and technology fields will collaborate with classroom teachers to expand their use of the school district's Full Option Science System, or FOSS, kits. These "science in a box" modules allow hands-on, inquiry-based science learning for K-8 students without requiring teachers to receive special training or acquire specific content knowledge.

Together, teachers, graduate students and faculty will implement a curriculum that focuses on the environment and improves student achievement, especially on the standardized Colorado Student Assessment Program, or CSAP test. The fellowship program is part of an ongoing effort by CU-Boulder's School of Education to develop curricula that are consistent with state science standards, Kidder said.

Among other practical projects, students will be able to travel to alpine and wetland ecosystems to learn about climate change and human impact on the environment.

"The idea is to really engage students in learning key scientific concepts rather than just have them watch demonstrations of 'cool' science," Kidder said.

Judy Skupa, assistant superintendent for the Boulder Valley School District, said the program is a great example of the collaborative spirit between the region's public schools and CU-Boulder.

"To have a graduate student working side-by-side a teacher -- as a teacher-scientist pair in the classroom -- is a wonderful example of the type of partnership with CU that can benefit all of our students," she said.

According to faculty advisers, the program aims to train graduate students as "scientist-communicators" who can increase science and math literacy and share their love of science, technology and innovation with K-8 students. The NSF-funded fellowship program will benefit pupils from all socioeconomic backgrounds, but graduate students are expected to make a special effort to reach out to low-income and ethnic minority students who are lagging in math and science performance.

Such programs can serve as pipelines for talented students who want to pursue careers in science and technology in college and beyond, said Lesley Smith, an outreach scientist at the CU-Boulder Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, or CIRES. Smith is one of the project's principal investigators.

"Some of them may be the first in their family to graduate from high school and getting them exposed to scientists and the campus will, hopefully, open up new pathways for them, including going to college" said Smith, who is a Boulder Valley School Board member.

During one fieldtrip, participants will travel to CU-Boulder's Mountain Research Station and work alongside graduate students and ecology and evolutionary biology Professor William Bowman. Bowman is another of the project's principal investigators, who oversees the Mountain Research Station for CU's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, or INSTAAR.

Bowman said most students don't get their first real taste of scientific research until they reach college. But by then it may be too late for those who might have excelled in the sciences had they been exposed to math, science and technology at an earlier age, he said.

"Fifth grade is an optimum time to expose them to science and get them excited about it. Kids are much more impressionable about that time," Bowman said.

For more information about the CU-Boulder Science Discovery program, visit www.colorado.edu/sciencediscovery/.