$5 million grant links science education to economic development

September 17, 2009 | Research
By Matt Lockwood

As the northwest Ohio economy transitions toward one driven by alternative energy, a new $5 million grant from the National Science Foundation will help The University of Toledo, Toledo Public Schools and several supporting partners prepare today’s K-12 students for jobs in the new work force.

The goal of the Leadership for Educators: Academy for Driving Economic Revitalization in Science (LEADERS) partnership is to improve K-12 science education and make it more interesting to students by incorporating hands-on or Project-Based Science linked to the renewable energies industry and its environmental impacts, which are vital to the economic development of the Great Lakes region.

“Project-Based Science contextualizes learning so that it is interesting to students,” said Dr. Charlene Czerniak, UT professor of curriculum and instruction and a co-investigator on the grant. “Often the curriculum is based around a driving question, such as ‘Is water in Lake Erie safe to drink?’ Then lessons about invertebrates, sustainable energy and climate change are tied back to answering that question.”

Over the duration of the LEADERS project, 24 teachers from four school districts — two each from elementary, middle and high school levels — will take two-and-a-half summers of graduate courses in physics, chemistry, environmental science and engineering. UT scientists and science educators will partner to teach the courses and blend the content with Project-Based Science activities that the K-12 teachers will then implement in their classrooms.

The project will launch in summer 2010 with Toledo Public Schools and Toledo Diocese Schools. Akron City Schools and Monroe County Intermediate School District teachers will begin training in summer 2012.

“It is critical that our students learn the skills that will be expected of them in the work force,” said Jan Kilbride, chief academic officer of Toledo Public Schools and a co-investigator on the project. “This project will allow teachers to improve their content expertise and better relate their lessons to events to which the students have a connection.”

During the first summer, the K-12 teachers will take courses in Physical Principles of Energy Sources for Humans, Principles of Solar and Wind Energy, Problem-Based Science and Leadership.

Upon returning to their districts, the teachers will assume the roles of teacher leaders and work with their colleagues so that the whole district is impacted.

“We have a history of teacher leaders playing a role in curriculum development, and this is another great step,” Kilbride said.

Dr. Kevin Czajkowski, UT associate professor of geography and a co-investigator, said the LEADERS project can revolutionize the way the community views and provides education.

“In addition to enticing students to pursue careers in alternative energy, I hope we can improve the general population’s science knowledge and the acceptance of renewable energy,” Czajkowski said.

The LEADERS project links national science standards with the expected skill sets of science practitioners, resulting in K-12 lessons that are not only challenging, but also relevant.

“Linking Project-Based Science to economic development challenges the paradigm that teachers simply follow state and national standards,” Czerniak said. “If a curriculum leads to kids getting a job in the community, that is economic development. We want K-12 teachers to begin thinking of the role they play in our changing economy.”

By its conclusion, an estimated 86,000 K-12 students are expected to benefit from the LEADERS program.

Supporting partners in the LEADERS project are Akron area schools, Toledo Diocese Schools, Monroe County Intermediate School District, Monroe County Community College, Toledo Science Center, TechniGraphics, Blue Water Satellite, the Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization, and the Great Lakes WIND Network.

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