The goal of this three year Research Experience for Teachers is to provide a proactive and well structured research, education and professional development experience for at least 44 middle and high school science and math teachers from the Hillsborough County Public Schools and pre-service teachers from USF’s College of Education.
The research theme is framed around three of the National Academy of Engineer’s Grand Challenges:
- management of the nitrogen cycle,
- provision of clean water,
- urban infrastructure improvement,
and the role of formal and informal science education in integrating marginalized, coastal community participants in developing solutions to these grand challenges whilst broadening participation in STEMs fields.
RET participants will interact with faculty mentors and their research group in the Colleges of Engineering, and Arts and Sciences at USF through individual summer research projects, research seminars, social and community activities, professional training sessions, and online media linked to the RET website. The RET program will be integrated with:
- two USF courses (Development of Technology-Based Instruction and Engineering Engagement: Beyond the lab and the Drawing Board);
- an ongoing project of the USF Engineers for a Sustainable World student chapter (WARE in East Tampa, an Environmental Protection Agency People Prosperity Planet Phase II award winner in 2009); and
- ongoing faculty research and graduate training to ensure year long teacher support in local area schools and communities, especially those marginalized by high percentages of poverty and English language learners.
The objectives are to:
- train existing and upcoming teacher participants in the steps required for authentic scientific research;
- partner RET participants with USF faculty and their classes to create and implement innovative middle and high school curriculum that broadens participation in STEMs fields through the use of relevant place based community engaged research projects, technology integration, language learning attention, and tiered mentorship opportunities linking K-12 and communities with university faculty and students;
- establish a sustainable mechanism for broadening participation in academic STEM research that meets targets of at least 50% women and 50% underrepresented minority RET participants who work in schools that have above average Florida percentages of students qualified for free or reduced lunches (> 51%) and/or English language learners (>12%); and
- create a collaborative group of university, K-12 and community participants that advances faculty research, meets local agency needs (e.g. Hillsborough County Adopt- A-Pond programs), and improves communities.
Motivation: Numerous reports stress the importance of science and mathematics to the USA, the need for more scientists and engineers entering the pipeline, and for better student achievement level (National Academies of Science, 2006; US Department of Education, 2002; National Research Council, 2009). Between 1980 and 2000, the growth rate of the need for new science and engineering professionals exceeded the overall growth rate of the number of science and engineering degrees earned in the U.S. (National Science Board, 2006). The potential supply of new STEM students, however, is limited in Florida by the effects of poverty, ethnicity and English as a second language. According to the 2009 report of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), almost 60% of eighth-graders were achieving below expectations for their grade level (FDEP, 2009), with the majority of these students in schools with high levels of poverty and/or large numbers of English Language Learners (ELLs). Furthermore, the National Science Board (National Science Board, 2010) reports that 12% of Latino and African American students, and 2% of American Indian students enrolled in STEM Advanced Placement courses in 2008. This compares with 70% of white students.
Equipping all students, but especially those who are marginalized by poverty and English as a second language, with deep understanding of science concepts, critical thinking and problem solving skills involved in engineering science research that solves grand challenges, and the interest and motivation to pursue STEM careers is not only empowering for the student, but it is also vital for our nation. The National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Teachers program aims to broaden participation in STEMs fields. A review of programs funded prior to 2007 found that the programs did increase knowledge of teachers in STEMs research which was translated into curriculum that engaged K-12 students (SRI, 2007). The reviewers also found that 83% of participants’ experience focused on developing curricula rather than participating in research, 64% reported limited follow up with the RET faculty mentor, and less than 40% were very satisfied with their faculty mentor’s knowledge of the roles/responsibilities of K-12 STEM teachers or with their mentor’s interest in helping them develop classroom plans (SRI, 2007).
NSF proposal changes since 2007 require RET sites to address these issues and this proposal was developed to eliminate the shortcomings identified by SRI. It does so by expanding on an existing community based participatory model developed by the PI and her colleagues based in Hillsborough County, Florida to promote authentic science research of relevance to the local community, guarantee follow up, and build faculty engagement in K-12 science and math education. A description of this model is given next since it sets the stage for the research themes selected for this RET site.
With funding from Environmental Protection Agency People Prosperity and the Planet (P3) grants received in 2008 and 2009, Dr. Trotz, her colleagues, and the USF Engineers for a Sustainable World student chapter (ESW USF) partner with a local urban community, East Tampa, and three of its schools (Young Middle Magnet, Lockhart Elementary and King’s Kids Elementary) to build science curriculum around stormwater ponds of which there are 31 in the 7 square mile area (Trotz, 2009; Thomas et al., 2009). East Tampa is a Community Redevelopment Area in Florida and residents used a percentage of their property taxes to transform two stormwater ponds into more accessible green spaces under a beatification initiative. Branded as “Water Awareness Research and Education in East Tampa”, the P3 project has also developed informal science education kiosks which introduce green infrastructure and low impact design concepts to the community. For 2011, this curriculum was piloted for 8 weeks in Spring 2011 with the math resource teacher from Young Middle Magnet and three of their 8th grade classes and is now being used as semester long components for 7th and 8th grade project classes. The East Tampa community is one of many that drains to McKay Bay, one of the waterways with the most pronounced sediment toxicity data within the Tampa Bay estuary (Long and Greening, 1999). The latter is lumped with 12 other water bodies “that appear to have the most significant sediment contamination in Region 4,” the EPA region that covers the southeastern states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee (USEPA, 2004).
In addition, if one were to overlay the fourteen National Academy of Engineering Grand Challenges
(http://www.engineeringchallenges.org/) with the challenges in K-12 science preparation, faculty expertise at USF, socio-economic and environmental realities of areas like East Tampa, and the opportunities offered through the WARE-East Tampa project, the three NAE Grand Challenges related to: 1) managing the nitrogen cycle, 2) improving urban infrastructure and 3) providing access to clean water emerge as relevant to our university’s geographic and demographic reality.