College teams up with MCLA, local schools to rethink science education

The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of $810,876 to the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts to work in conjunction with the College and the North Adams Public Schools for a program called Teaching to Learn: Improving Undergraduate Science Education Through Engagement in K-7 Science.

The NSF is a federal agency that supports research and education in non-medical science fields. MCLA applied for the NSF grant, rather than the College, because the College does not offer an education major, making MCLA a better candidate for the NSF grant for science education.

The program is meant to “improve undergraduate STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics] education and the science education system,” according to Dr. Stroud, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Education at MCLA and Principal Investigator for the grant. Williams and MCLA undergraduates will be able to collaborate with college professors and North Adams Public School teachers to create and teach a new science curriculum for students K-7.

This year, 20 students from the College will teach second through fifth-graders at Brighton and Greylock Elementary Schools while students from MCLA will be working with second through fifth-graders at Sullivan Elementary.

The process for establishing a new curriculum began in earnest this past summer at the Center for Learning in Action (CLA). Cindy Le ’15, Veronica Gould ’15, Dvivid Trivedi ’17 and Katie Swoap ’17 interned at CLA this summer and wrote a curriculum that is in accordance with the Next Generation Science Standards, guidelines created by 26 lead states to dictate what science concepts students should understand given their grade level. The project will run from Sept. 1, 2014 to Aug. 18, 2018.

The program evolved last fall when the three institutions decided to expand the Williams Elementary Outreach Program. As of last fall, students from the College were only working with two of the three elementary schools in the North Adams district, Greylock and Brighton. The third, Sullivan Elementary, was much farther away from campus.

“We wanted to take a model that had been successful at Greylock and Brighton and see if we could extend it to the teachers at Sullivan and also bring in MCLA students,” Jennifer Swoap, co-principal investigator on the grant and the Director of Elementary Outreach at the College, said.

“The goal is to see the effect of undergraduates teaching hands-on science to elementary students. We’re going to measure elementary school student learning around science; we’re going to measure undergraduate learning around science; and we are going to measure teacher learning around science. All three groups should be impacted and we want to see what that impact is,” Swoap said.

Jean Bacon, the administrator for teaching and learning, says that all parties will benefit from the program. The students at all three elementary schools will improve their scientific knowledge and work with college-age role models. The teachers will become more comfortable with a new curriculum and with scientific knowledge in general. Undergraduates will gain experience teaching the sciences.

The new curriculum aims to highlight “the interconnected nature of science as it is practiced and experienced in the real world,” according to the Next Generation Science Standard’s website. As a result, the CLA will supply elementary schools with original science curriculum and supplies for undergraduate and teachers.

The expansion of the Outreach Program due to the grant from the NSF coincides with the 20-year anniversary of the Outreach Program in the sciences. Those involved with the Williams Outreach Program are “thrilled to be marking this anniversary with the award of the NSF Teach to Learn grant,” according to Swoap.