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NSF funds unique program

9/22/14

NSF3MCLA embarked on an exciting new program this month that allows our undergraduates to join with their peers from Williams College to work with science professors and teachers in North Adams Public Schools (NAPS) to develop science units and teach that curriculum to students in grades K through 7.

Over the next four years, undergraduates who study science, education and liberal arts will participate in this collaborative effort, “Teaching to Learn: Improving Undergraduate Science Education through Engagement in K-7 Science.”

The year-long experience is designed to bolster their undergraduate education in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields while it benefits teachers and young students throughout North Adams.

The program, under the direction of Nicholas Stroud, Ph.D., MCLA assistant professor of science/technology education and the principle investigator on the project, was made possible by a $810,876 grant to the campus from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The grant is yet another evidence of the strong partnerships that exist between the campus, Williams and NAPS as MCLA continues to fuel the STEM pipeline, according to Dr. Monica Joslin, dean of academic affairs.

The news that NSF had funded the project was met with great enthusiasm on campus.

“There’s certainly a great momentum and excitement about STEM,” Stroud said. “We are filling another niche as we connect college students with the elementary schools, and allow them to learn science through teaching it. We’ve got a really dynamic team put together who are energized and dedicated to do some great work.”

Stroud is working with co-principle investigators Jennifer Swoap, assistant director/director of elementary outreach at Williams; Jean Bacon, administrator of teaching and learning at NAPS; and Christopher Himes, Ph.D., STEM program manager and the Evelyn H. and Arlindo Jorge Endowed Chair in MCLA’s Education Department.

Although the primary benefit is for the undergraduate students, “The great thing about this project is that we also intend to see benefits for the college faculty, the elementary teachers and the elementary students,” Stroud said. “It’s really a community-wide benefit. It’s a real win-win situation for all involved.”

NSF2According to Himes, by working with MCLA students, the elementary and middle school teachers will gain additional content knowledge while they provide the undergraduates with teaching practices.

“We’ll develop new units around the science standards, which will in turn help improve the understanding of science for the elementary-level students,” Himes said. “It’s going across a broad board of education, influencing elementary students in NAPS all the way up to our undergraduates.

“It’s a broad, new step into some really great potential for teaching sciences,” he added.

Himes hopes the new standards will result in interesting more students in science. “But, fundamentally, hopefully it will lead to a greater appreciation for science even if students don’t pursue those areas.

“We talk a lot about STEM careers,” Himes added. “Being a science or math teacher is a STEM career. It’s a great career to move into, and in high demand. If students consider this career, they could leave MCLA and enter the teaching workforce. This program is a way to pull more students toward teaching, as well.”