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NSF Funds STEM Teacher Training Initiative in Indiana

The National Science Foundation has awarded a $1.25 million grant to Purdue University to support a new five-year initiative to train Indiana high school teachers in science, technology, engineering, and math. The work will focus on addressing sustainability in STEM education.

The program, "Research Goes to School," is being developed by the university's Discovery Learning Research Center. It will consist of a two-week intensive summer workshop for teachers, two regional summits that the bring the instructors together during the following school year, a Webinar, and a social networking site to provide ongoing support for participants.

During the first year, the program will directly reach 40 rural in-service teachers, 80 pre-service rural teachers, and their students, said chemistry professor Gabriela Weaver, who also directs the Discovery Learning Research Center. She said that indirectly, however, the program will "touch 400 rural in-service teachers and their students through planned outreach activities."

The program will focus on Indiana sustainable energy by developing curriculum for integrating sustainable energy concepts with state science education standards. Weaver pointed out that rural Indiana schools represent a high-need, high-challenge arena that's been largely neglected in educational reform and research efforts. Attracting and retaining teachers is a huge challenge for rural schools because of their geographic distance from universities, lower salaries, and multiple grade-subject teaching assignments.

On top of that, she added, "Many rural school districts also face problems such as reduced state funding and outdated infrastructure that hinder effective STEM instruction and result in lower STEM achievement."

The program will include a strong assessment component to help researchers better understand how best to prepare and retain STEM teachers in rural schools and recruit rural students into STEM disciplines.

Maureen McCann, director of Purdue's Energy Center, said making STEM relevant to students will help woo them into those academic areas. "In the agricultural landscape of the Midwest, the relevance of bioenergy research is immediate and powerful for students," she said. "And many rural students in Indiana have lived on or worked on farms that grow corn and soybeans."

"Helping students at all levels make the connection between the classroom and Purdue's research--and then to the real problems our world faces--is a critical component in developing the thinkers and leaders to solve problems in the future," said Tim Sands, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost. "Research Goes to School is building a bridge to connect high school education and research in a practical way."

The first workshop will take place June 13 through 24 at Purdue's West Lafayette campus. Teachers will earn three graduate credits and may receive $200 stipends to pay for travel expenses and housing.

Information about Research Goes to School is available here.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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