National Lab Day: Exemplary Projects
From contributing to children's books to simply lunching with K-12 students, from conducting outreach on the principles of robotics to grade-school students by Historically Black Colleges and Universities to recruiting high-school teachers to help with air-quality research, NSF-funded researchers already are engaged in a myriad of activities that fully reflect the spirit of National Lab Day.
While far from an exhaustive catalogue of grantees' education outreach to K-12 schools, these examples--drawn from projects from Montana to Louisiana and Alaska to Puerto Rico--provide templates for success for NSF-funded scientists, engineers, and mathematicians, as well as program officers and other members of the wider NSF community, eager to participate in National Lab Day.
Principal investigator: Lindsay Shopland, The Jackson Laboratory
How do you capture the attention of 8-year-olds? Easy--show them something slimy, smelly and gross. In Lindsay Shopland's experience, germs will do the trick. Shopland works with a team of scientists from the Jackson Laboratory to introduce bacteriology and the scientific process to second graders at the Conners Emerson elementary school in Bar Harbor, Maine.
Every year for the past 12 years, a group of Jackson scientists has spent three mornings leading second graders on a bacteria hunt. On day one, the scientists explain that bacteria are invisible but can be made visible if you give them food and a warm place to grow into a colony. The scientists work with the class to generate a hypothesis about where bacteria are growing in the classroom. Then the students, with the help of the scientist, set up the "Bacteria Hunt Experiment," testing for bacteria on their desks, the door knob, the sink, the plants and most importantly, their hands. They swab these test sites and transfer any bacteria to Petri plates with food for the bacteria to grow and form colonies. On day two, after the plates have spent the night in a nice warm incubator, the colony count begins. Like all scientists, the students log important results in their notebooks: how many colonies are on the plates, what color they are, and how they smell. As you might expect from second graders, their hands usually win the "germiest site contest." And so the "Hand Washing Experiment" begins. Students test their hands for bacteria before and after washing. On day three, they count bacteria colonies again. Parents take heart: the students are shocked to find out just how effective hand washing is. In addition to hygiene, the children's eyes are opened to the world of microscopic organisms. They also get to walk in the shoes of professional scientists, see them as real people and, best of all, wear lab coats.
Speaking of Science (SoS) program
Principal investigator: Michael Khonsari, Louisiana Board of Regents
"If you understand science, you can do that. And each of you will do it by the end of this class," promises Laura Whitlock, a member of Louisiana NSF EPSCoR's Speaking of Science (SoS) program, who personifies her contention that being a scientist is "cool." In her SoS presentation, "It's Toys; No, It's Science! Understanding Motion," she uses everyday materials to demonstrate basic scientific principles. Whitlock, for example, notes that it was Sir Isaac Newton who proved that to understand motion, you just need to look at all of the forces involved. Whitlock, an assistant professor of physics at Louisiana State University-Shreveport , cites her versions of his three laws of motion with which we can understand how most toys function: 1) All objects want to keep doing whatever they were doing and won't change unless you force them. 2) Forces can change your motion. They can speed you up or slow you down; make you turn left or turn right or even around. 3). If I push on you, you push back on me unless I break you. That push-back affects me; only the forces on you affect you.
Later, Whitlock gives students a paperclip, a strip of paper and directions on how to make their first helicopter. She then instructs them to stand up, drop it and tell her which way it is moving (counter clockwise). "Now reverse the folds and tell me which way it is moving" (clockwise). Citing Newton's laws, she explains why they can know how it is going to move. This plainspoken approach excites students about science and scientific principles in a way that stays with them long after the workshops.
Coast-to-Coast Learning: Research Center in Partnership with SEED Academy to Reach Underserved Teens
Principal investigator: Jay Keasling, University of California-Berkeley
The NSF-funded Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC) at the University of California, Berkeley has formed a partnership with the Saturday Engineering Enrichment and Discovery (SEED) Academy, a free program for underserved high school students in Massachusetts, to design and teach an eight-week biological engineering teaching unit. The SEED Academy's mission is to increase the number of traditionally underserved students in the pipeline for the technical workforce, so this new teaching unit is a perfect fit for helping to achieve that goal, especially given the Boston area's concentration of biotech startups, mature companies and academic and research institutions.
Though based in California, SynBERC works with institutions throughout the U.S. and as far away as Korea to further NSF's goal of improving education and outreach to communities that are underrepresented in the sciences, in order to expand the future pipeline of professionals in science and engineering fields. For two years, SynBERC graduate students worked with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which organizes the SEED Academy, to design and teach the program for the high-school students it serves from Boston, Cambridge and Lawrence, Mass. The biological engineering teaching unit is also now available for wider use on the OpenWetWare wiki, a site for researchers and others working in biology and biological engineering to share information, know-how and wisdom.
A Medals of Science "Teachable Moment"
Principal Investigator: Mayra Montrose, National Science Foundation
Caitlin McCabe, a fifth-grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and her students created their own Medal of Science award process in which each student researched and learned about a different famous scientist and then drafted a formal nomination, as though it were to be submitted to the National Science Foundation, which administers the Medal of Science for the White House. The class made their best case to NSF for why Ralph Baer (widely known as "the Father of Video Games"), Bill Gates, Marie Curie and other prominent people should win the coveted Presidential award. Mayra Montrose, NSF's National Medal of Science program manager, answered all of the students' nomination letters with personalized responses, thanking them for their nomination. She also provided NSF patches and rulers to each student. In the end, it was the students themselves who chose the winners: first place, Baer; second place, Walt Disney; and third place, Hippocrates.
Outreach by Historically Black Colleges and Universities: Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact (ARTSI) Alliance
Principal Investigator: Thorna Humphries, Norfolk State University
The Advancing Robotics Technology for Societal Impact (ARTSI) Alliance is providing cutting-edge robotics education and research experiences for hundreds of students and faculty at 14 Historically Black Colleges and Universities. ARTSI supports college students with resources for curriculum, and academic-year and summer research experiences. Often the students work in research collaborations with robotics projects at research intensive universities. ARTSI also supports student attendance at undergraduate research conferences and participation competitions, including its own Computing Olympiads. ARTSI also runs robotics K-12 summer camps, workshops and after-school activities for nearly 1,000 students. In addition to making robotics a formal part of the computer science curriculum at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, ARTSI aims to recruit K-12 students to pursue computer science and robotics education.
Principal Investigator: John Spencer, University of Iowa
John Spencer, director of the Delta Center at the University of Iowa, and Christian Faubel, an artist and scientist at the Institute for Neurocomputing at the Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany, created a series of workshops entitled "Overhead 'Bots" to introduce 5-to-12-year-old children to basic ideas of cognition, development, and engineering, through active learning and play. The children built small robots by soldering parts, including a solar panel and simple motor, to a circuit board. They decorated the 'bots with colored wax paper, ribbons and other embellishments. When placed on an overhead projector, which provided the light source for the solar panel, the 'bots came to life and started moving in interesting ways, projecting lively, unpredictable art on the walls of the museum. This activity illustrated central concepts that Spencer and Faubel use in their research on cognitive and developmental science.
In a follow-up to the workshops for children, high-school students enrolled in the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County participated in tours of several laboratories at the Delta Center at the University of Iowa.
Principal Investigator: Laura Allen, Vision Education and Media
GreenFab is an educational program at Bronx Guild High School, designed to introduce low-income, minority high school youth in the Hunts Point neighborhood of the South Bronx to engineering and technology skill sets that are used in the sustainable technologies industry. The program draws on students’ environmental and economic conditions and problems as raw material from which to create an instructional program. Partners in the venture include Vision Education and Media, an educational services provider that heads up the program, Sustainable South Bronx, a nonprofit organization, Bronx Guild High School, a public school, and New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. Through hands-on projects, students learn how to work with computers, and they design and build electronic devices that address environmental needs. Projects include building working model wind turbines and solar vehicles. They also learn to apply things they create to help raise community consciousness about the environment and how human behavior can help or harm it. With access to fabrication tools, the Internet and knowledgeable mentors (scientists and engineers), students are able to complete sophisticated projects that are usually only done by those with extensive preparation in science and mathematics.
What's Climate Change to You?
Principal Investigator: Aaron Doering, University of Minnesota
What does climate change mean to each one of us in relation to our geographic location, our connection to the land and our sense of place? The project networks 40 schools across the U.S., Canada, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Greenland, allowing students and teachers to form partnerships with scientists to explore aspects of climate change across tundra, taiga, prairies and maritime regions. The project allows students to track a dog-sled expedition across these regions as a way to engage students. The 2010 expedition in Greenland will last from mid-April to mid-May.
Scientific Villages in the Prime the Pipeline Project (P3)
Principal Investigator: Carole Greenes, Arizona State University
The Prime the Pipeline Project (P3) is implementing and evaluating a "Scientific Village" strategy to increase high school students' interest in STEM careers as well as to update science, mathematics and technology secondary school teachers in their own and related fields, and to introduce them to a new instructional strategy. Scientific Villages, each with 24 members, including high school teachers (participating as learners), high school students (of the class of 2011), undergraduate STEM majors (serving as mentors) and village leaders (practicing scientists and engineers from Arizona State University or industry), collaborate to solve long-term challenging problems that mirror the work of STEM professionals.
The Village approach is based on motivational research that suggests that learning is enhanced when work is project-based, capitalizes on students' interests and talents with technology, and provides extended opportunities for collaboration with experts and peers. Among the 16 different villages conducted to date are those in which villagers: explored and developed functioning models of clean rooms; considered alternative energy sources and built working models of wind turbines, "placing them" in areas in the world that are energy needy and have high winds; programmed applications for the iPod; developed computer simulations of traumas to the human body; and studied cell-phone communications and designed a cost-efficient network for Arizona.
Institute of Functional Nanomaterials
Principal Investigator: Brad Weiner, University of Puerto Rico
In conjunction with NanoDays, a national event organized by Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network, researchers and students from the University of Puerto Rico take their research on nanoscience and technology to the general public at a two-day exhibition in the atrium of Plaza Las Americas, the 15th largest mall in the US. The Institute of Functional Nanomaterials trained 154 students from five public high schools in the jurisdiction to man eight interactive exhibits that presented the basic concepts and applications in nanoscience. Collaborating undergraduate and graduate students offered more in-depth explanations and participated in a poster exhibition, presenting current research themes in nanoscience. Five thousand people of all ages engaged in hands-on activities which aroused their curiosity. Interaction with the student presenters provided a venue for learning about applications of nanoscience research at the campuses of Puerto Rican universities.
Polar TREC-Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating
Principal Investigator: Janet Warburton, Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S.
Teachers and Researchers Exploring and Collaborating is a teacher professional-enhancement program that pairs 36 K-12 educators with polar researchers for field experiences in the Arctic and Antarctic, shared through live webcasts, Internet presentations, podcasts from the field, the daily posting of teacher journals, interactive bulletin boards, photo galleries, online multimedia learning resources and CARE (Connecting Arctic/Antarctic Researchers and Educators) web meetings to translate experiences into the classroom.
High-school Researchers: Credible Commitments in International Relations
Principal investigator: Michael Tomz, Stanford University
Problems of credibility are central to international relations. Every day, leaders make threats and promises when dealing with other countries. Why and when should anyone take foreign leaders at their word? Tomz has developed an integrated program of research and education to explore this fundamental question. His work focuses on two potentially important markers of credibility: Did leaders go public by telling their citizens about threats and promises they issued abroad? And did they go legal by embedding their commitments in treaties and other international agreements?
Tomz has worked with a team of research assistants to create a new dataset about military commitments in international relations. Undergraduates have been involved in researching the histories and writing narratives of the more than 1,000 disputes in the NSF-funded Militartized Interstate Dispute dataset. To date, 31 high school students, from a wide range of backgrounds, have been involved in researching the history of militarized disputes and writing narratives about them. They have also participated in research conferences sponsored by Tomz in 2008 and 2009, where they made formal presentations in which they identified challenges of measurement and proposed ways to solve them. They also proposed new hypotheses about military disputes and designed research projects based on their ideas. By participating directly in research, these high school students gained a deeper understanding of scientific findings and methods. They also gained skills in a variety of areas--data collection and analysis, oral and written presentation, critical thinking and teamwork--that will serve them throughout their lives.
What's in the Air in Big Sky Country?
Principal Investigator: Garon Smith, University of Montana
Concentrations of volatile organic pollutants were measured in and around homes in Missoula, Mont., in this unique collaboration between K-12 teachers and students from Big Sky High School and University of Montana researchers. Significant concentrations of organic pollutants, including toluene
were measured inside the homes. Despite the semi-rural location in this study, concentrations of indoor pollutants were comparable to those found in previous studies of urban homes. The project highlights a collaboration between David Jones, a teacher at Big Sky High School, his students; Heidi Underberg , an undergraduate student at Augustana College and university scientists Tony Ward, Raymond Hamilton and Earle Adams, that led to a significant result in environmental science.
Educational Modules Developed in Upstate New York Benefit Teachers and Students in Puerto Rico
Principal investigator: Melissa Hines, Cornell University
Over the past 10 years, researchers at the Cornell Materials Research Science and Engineering Center have developed hundreds of hands-on activities that bring the excitement of science into the classroom. To increase their impact, Cornell is partnering with colleagues at Arecibo Observatory and the University of Puerto Rico to take their expertise south. This spring, the two groups ran a joint workshop for elementary school teachers on the university’s campus in Mayagüez. At the one-day workshop, teachers learned new ways to integrate microscopy into elementary education and received supplies for
materials-focused classroom activities. At Arecibo Observatory, Cornell graduate students taught elementary students from around the island about energy and fuel cells. During the session, the students enthusiastically collaborated to build their own battery-powered electrolyzers.
Cycle of Rice, Cycle of Life: A Story of Sustainable Farming
Principal investigator: Steve Lansing, University of Arizona
Steve Lansing collaborated with children's book author, Jan Reynolds, to produce a tremendously successful middle-school science book on Balinese sustainable rice farming. The book is based on Lansing's many years of NSF-funded research on Balinese irrigation systems. The book has won numerous awards, including: Smithsonian Magazine's Notable Children's Books for 2009; Honor Book/grade K-6 Social Studies, Society for School Librarians International; Notable Books for a Global Society International Reading Association; Best books Grade 7-12 Science Society of School Librarians International; and the John Burroughs Young Readers Award from the American Museum of Natural History. The book is having a tremendous impact in its first year, and it is based entirely on research funded by NSF's cultural anthropology and biocomplexity programs.
Summer Program in Mathematics for High School Girls at Rice University
Principal investigator: Shelly Harvey, Rice University
Shelly Harvey is a recipient of an NSF CAREER award. For the educational component of her project, she proposed to establish a two-week summer mathematics program for high school girls. Her goal was to introduce high level abstract mathematics to the girls in such a way that they will view the discipline as useful, fun and exciting. The first workshop was held in 2008 on the Rice University campus. Harvey received more than 75 applications from 13 different high schools and accepted 20 of those students. The teaching staff consisted of Harvey, a postdoctoral assistant and two graduate students, all female.
The core of the program was a two-week course in knot theory--a branch of pure mathematics closely related to Harvey's research program. Harvey describes knots as strings with closed ends in three-dimensional space. In addition, there were several individual modules on other parts of mathematics, including group theory, cryptography, countable and uncountable sets, probability, logic and proofs. Almost none of these topics are covered in a high school mathematics syllabus. Several connections were built between knot theory and the material developed in the modules. The participants also investigated some open problems. Harvey’s intention was to introduce the students to the concept of research in mathematics and demonstrate that, unlike the homework that they do in their typical math classes, not all mathematics problems are already solved.
Saturday Morning Biophysics: Mentoring Future Female Scientists
Principal investigator: Andreea Trache, Texas A&M
Using funds from her NSF CAREER grant Andreea Trache from the Texas A&M Health Science Center in College Station organized an outreach program called "Saturday Morning Biophysics: Image Life!" The program's goal is to stimulate interest in science among high school girls from the surrounding rural Texas area and to communicate the excitement of research while also providing information on career paths at the interface between physics and biology. Through a partnership with Girl Scouts of Central Texas, Trache supplemented the NSF funding to subsidize the required transportation and meals for the participating students. The outreach program consists of five sessions in the fall semester, including: research lectures offered by Texas A&M professors from different colleges; an education and careers in science lecture offered by female graduate students, who are the first in their families to attend college and are presently graduate students at Texas A&M University; and hands-on activities and laboratory
demonstrations using atomic force and confocal microscopes organized by Trache's group. The program was offered in 2008 and 2009 to a total of 48 high-school girls (22 of them minority students) from five different towns in rural Texas. In addition adults also participated in the program (Girl Scouts chaperons and parents).
Go 'Bots!: Mentors Cheer On FIRST LEGO League Competitors
Principal investigator: Carlo Yuvienco, New York University
Carlo Yuvienco, a doctoral candidate in the Polytechnical Institute of New York University's (NYU-Poly) biomedical engineering program, coached at New York City's P.S. 11 for the borough-wide qualifier of the FIRST LEGO League, a competition that uses robots to conquer real-world engineering challenges. Yuvienco and 12 other NYU-Poly students have lent their services to middle schools in Brooklyn as part of the Applying Mechatronics to Promote Science (AMPS) and the Central Brooklyn Robotics Initiative (CBRI) programs, funded in part by NSF, the Brooklyn Community Foundation and a Motorola Innovation Generation Grant. Noel Kriftcher, executive director of NYU-Poly's David Packard Center for Technology and Educational Alliances, as well as Professors Vikram Kapila and Magued Iskander, guided the activities, which aligned with the center's mission to train and support teachers interested in weaving advanced technologies into their curriculums. Each week for 10-15 hours, Yuvienco and his peers visit a local classroom and share what they know about the STEM disciplines.
Summer Research Experiences for Teachers in Civil Infrastructure Renewal and Rehabilitation
Principal Investigator: Anant Kukreti, University of Cincinnati
Building upon a successfully completed Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) site, the project provides a three-year research experience for 7th to 12th grade teachers in "Civil Infrastructure Renewal and Rehabilitation" through the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Cincinnati. The project educates, cultivates and facilitates 7th to 12th grade science and math teachers through exploration of the scientific method of inquiry and the critical research skills that engineers use to solve open-ended, real-world
problems. In this way, the teachers participating in the RET site will be able to apply their research experiences in their classrooms and with colleagues. The teachers' new skills will also enable 7th to 12th grade students to directly link their education to events and issues occurring within their community and will encourage them to become effective citizens in a technology-driven society. This summer experience motivates the teachers to become critical thinkers, apply science to daily living, use civil infrastructure examples as a context to
convey math and science concepts and encourage their students to consider engineering careers.
Geoscience Institute for Research and Education at the University of Michigan-Dearborn
Principal investigators: Kent Murray and Jacob Napieralski, University of Michigan-Dearborn
The Geoscience Institute for Research and Education (GRI) is a partnership of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, the Detroit Public Schools (DPS) and local corporations to extend research and learning in the geosciences to underrepresented groups within the Detroit metropolitan area. The goal of the program is to build awareness of the geosciences and to create an enthusiastic learning experience designed to motivate students to stay in school and to consider science, particularly the geosciences, as a possible career.
The program is designed to reverse a current trend in which more than 40 percent of DPS students drop out of school and only 21 percent graduate from high school in four years. The project involves middle school students early in their educational career, along with their teachers, in ongoing, community-based research projects which demonstrate how the geosciences can be used as a tool to solve locally and socially relevant environmental problems that are also internationally important. The main GRI activities consist of spring and summer institutes that expose approximately 30-50 middle school students and their families and several teachers each year to the geosciences through inquiry-based, watershed-related environmental projects in southeast Michigan. The teachers, who typically do not have degrees in geology, are encouraged to return to school to take more geology courses in order to increase their competency, as stipulated by the No Child Left Behind Act, but also to increase their excitement and enthusiasm for the geosciences.
Project CRYSTAL (Crystallographers Researching with Young Scientists: Teaching and Learning)
Principal investigator: Hazel Holden, University of Wisconsin-Madison
In Hazel Holden's lab, researchers study enzymes that are needed for the biosynthesis of various sugars that are attached, for example, to some antibiotics, anti-tumor agents, or to the outer surfaces of bacteria. The researchers use primarily X-ray crystallography, a powerful method that allows one to "see" a protein in three dimensions. For this technique, crystals need to be grown. Holden, a professor of biochemistry, believed that these projects are ideally suited for instilling in middle school students the excitement of chemistry through biochemistry.
Project CRYSTAL, developed by Holden, Dan Toomey, a science teacher at Edgewood Middle School, and three of Holden's graduate students--Nate Bruender, Amanda Carney and Rachel Kubiak--was designed to address two major issues facing our nation's children: obesity and healthy diet. The project serves to instill a love for chemistry in middle school students by studying the main food group elements: proteins, lipids and carbohydrates. It provides hands-on laboratory experience in an active, state-of-the-art research laboratory, thus fostering possible interest in a future science career. And outreach activities make chemistry more accessible to "at-risk" students.
During the fall of 2008, Edgewood Middle School students in Madison, Wisc., learned the basic lab techniques of molecular biology including cloning, protein expression and purifications. The students have already crystallized a protein that is being studied in Holden's lab. They are learning not only about the research that is being done in the lab, but how it applies to their own lives. By studying the biochemistry of sugars, fats, and proteins, the students will ultimately be able to make informed choices on what foods they eat.
Satellites, Weather and Climate (SWAC)—Contributing to Geospatial Climate Education and Literacy
Principal investigator: Lesley-Ann Dupigny-Giroux, University of Vermont & State Agricultural College and Vermont state climatologist
The Satellites, Weather and Climate (SWAC) project at the University of Vermont
(UVM) is two-year, professional-development program aimed at enhancing the competency of K-12 science and mathematics teachers. The primary SWAC partners are teachers from participating schools in Vermont.
Teachers have participated in four modules to date. Monthly workshops have been held since October 2008 during which SWAC team members--who include Regina Toolin, an assistant professor of education; John Aleong, a professor in the Plant and Soil Science Department; and Stephen Hogan, retired National Weather Service forecaster--share climate and geospatial content and hands-on activities for using in the classroom. The four modules include cloud identification and monitoring; weather interpretation; tropospheric profile creation and analysis and; land surface interpretation. The goal is for teachers to learn about SWAC content and make connections to real-world situations that have value outside the classroom, increase student engagement and motivation for the sciences and challenge students to think critically about such scientific problems as global warming.
Tuesday Morning @ The Lab
Principal investigator: Tom Zinnen, NSF
"Tuesday Morning @ The Lab" gives 70 preschoolers ages 2 through 5 at the Bright Horizons National Science Foundation day care a chance to experience science as exploring the unknown through experiments. Each Tuesday, Tom Zinnen, an NSF staffer and parent of two children at the day care, leads an activity that invites the children and their teachers to explore and test their ideas, drawing on their own sense of fairness and curiosity. Zinnen works 15 minutes with each of six different groups of eight to 16 children, starting with the 2-year-olds and working up to the 5-year-olds. He starts with a germ of an idea using simple materials--for example, "Which milk makes better bubbles: skim, whole or chocolate?"-- and then the children's own reactions, insights and ideas drive the evolution of the activity from a germ of an idea to a well-honed activity over the course of the six sessions. The children get a weekly experience in science as "figuring stuff out," and Zinnen gets a weekly experience in amazement at how ingenious the kids are. This synergistic arrangement also serves as a 90-minute example of Rapid Prototype Development that speeds the testing, refining and development of new hands-on activities that emphasize science as experimentation and engineering as ingenuity.