Einstein Fellows Begin Year at National Science Foundation
Math and science teachers bring their perspective to NSF, gathering new insights for the classroom
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is host to eight math and science teachers from elementary and secondary schools around the country who have begun the new school year as participants in the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program.
These teachers would like to bring to NSF a sense of "what the kids are thinking," and a slice of life in the classroom where it can be challenging to attract kids to math and science and keep them developing their knowledge and competence as they get older. By the time their fellowships end, they would like to take back to their classroom and their colleagues a new perspective and new possibilities for bringing math and science to students.
"I want to be enthused and get my kids doing more and knowing more in math and science," says Melvina Jones, who will work this year in the program office that administers the Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. "That way, when it's time to major, they'll be able to make those choices."
Launched in 1994, the fellowship program is intended to bring to Congress and appropriate branches of the federal government the extensive knowledge and experience of classroom teachers. The teachers have the means to provide practical insights and "real world" perspectives to policy makers and program managers developing or managing educational programs.
Among the fellows is Jones, who was herself a Presidential Award winner in 2004. Jones is taking leave from her position as a science teacher at John Burroughs Elementary School in Washington, D.C., where she teaches children at all levels, from the Head Start program through sixth grade.
Jones is sometimes amazed by the technical capabilities of her students, who she describes as "digital natives," while her generation can be labeled "digital immigrants."
The challenge, she says, is to keep them interested and engaged in math and science through hands-on activities and a meshing of formal and informal science education.
"For instance, I try to take my kids on a boat once a year so that we can be out on the river doing things like calculating percentages and measuring pH," she says. Partnerships with nonprofit organizations have made it possible to do this from year to year.
Cherlyn Anderson is an eighth-grade science teacher and former technology coordinator who will work in the Informal Science Education program while at NSF.
"My eighth-graders still love "Bill Nye, the Science Guy," says Anderson. "But science exhibits and television shows aren't really stand-alone projects. They're really a teaser to get kids interested in science, and teachers can work from there to take it a step further."
Anderson has adapted for her classroom an experiment immortalized on YouTube where Mentos candy is mixed with Diet Coke, with dramatic results. Through the experiment, her students learned the importance of a careful scientific procedure - writing their plans in advance and accounting for variables such as size of bottles and brand of cola.
Other Einstein Fellows at NSF and their assigned areas are: Susan Brown and Kent Franklin, Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program (IGERT); Kathleen Gorski, Office of Polar Programs (OPP); Nicole LaDue, directorate for Geosciences; Ruth McDonald, Office of International Science & Engineering; and Kevin Swanson, Graduate Teaching Fellowships in K-12 Education (GK-12) program.
The eight teachers at NSF make up the majority of the 17 fellows participating in the program this year, with others based at the Department of Energy, Capitol Hill, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
More information about the fellows and the program can be found at http://www.trianglecoalition.org/ein.htm. On October 1, 2007, the online application for 2008-2009 fellowships will become available. A link to the application will be posted to this Web site.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2017, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards.
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