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Scientists learn from kids, kids become scientists in new MU effort

COLUMBIA, Mo. National statistics indicate that many children fall behind and lose interest in science during the crucial fourth and fifth grades. Now, a unique collaboration featuring University of Missouri scientists and graduate students will help young students develop their interests in science while teaching doctoral students how to communicate their work to the general public.

The MU GK-12 Program: "Show Me Nature From Elements to Ecosystems," will be awarded a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to send eight graduate fellows into Columbia Public Schools yearly starting in August. The graduate students will learn teaching practices from elementary school teachers while engaging elementary students in the scientific research process. MU is providing an additional $1 million for the program.

"We want young kids to stay in the science pipeline, and if we enhance science content, learning and motivation at these grades, we believe there will be a long-term impact on these students as they progress into college," said Candace Galen, professor of biological science in the MU College of Arts and Science. "At the same time, we have graduate students who are passionate about their work but have trouble explaining their very technical research. Working with the best teachers and young children will help our students learn how to be better teachers and communicators."

The "Show Me Nature" effort integrates two major programs of graduate study, the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG) and the Conservation Biology Program (CBP). During the program, pairs of IPG and CBP students will work together to develop lesson plans for their classrooms that draw from traditionally isolated science fields. In addition, teachers from the public schools will have a chance to participate in research in lab and field environments.

Collaborating scientists and scientist-teacher partnerships will create new opportunities in research and education. Galen said one part of the program will feature elementary students writing competitive grant proposals to bring new science resources to their classrooms. These proposals will be critiqued by professional scientists that will evaluate the proposals based on strength of writing and value of the proposed investment for science learning.

"Writing a grant proposal requires English, math, research and persuasion skills, which plays across the board for what teachers want their students to learn," Galen said. "They're going to compete for the best project for their school and that's a real motivator for kids. Additionally, by highlighting Missouri's natural habitats, the Show Me Nature theme gives students and teachers a framework for science that resonates with their daily lives," said Galen.


Contact: Steven Adams
University of Missouri-Columbia

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