Science becomes nexus for learning through iEvolve


BOWLING GREEN, O.—An ambitious project led by Bowling Green State University aims for no less than transforming the educational lives of children and teachers by training them to be true “citizen scientists,” able, as poet William Blake said, “to see a world in a grain of sand.”

Funded by a $7.28 million grant from the National Science Foundation, the five-year project titled “iEvolve with STEM” will work with two K-12 school districts as core partners. Perkins Local Schools and Sandusky City Schools students in grades 3-8 and their teachers will collaborate with scientists at BGSU and other partnering colleges and universities and nonprofit agencies in a groundbreaking new curriculum.

Project leader Dr. Bob Midden, a BGSU chemistry professor and director of the Northwest Ohio Center for Excellence in STEM Education (NWO), said, “We want to improve science education by allowing even the younger children to participate in real research that addresses real scientific issues that have a bearing on the health and welfare of people in their communities and elsewhere. The goal is to give them a focus and a context for their learning that helps them make the connections that deepen their understanding.”

The basis of iEvolve is that science becomes the nexus for the study of everything, from language arts and reading, mathematics and social sciences to the arts, Midden said. “With the Monarch Watch project, for example (one of the curriculum modules), students can also study the social, political, economic and geographical factors surrounding the butterflies’ existence. They can improve their language skills by reading and by writing about their research findings. These projects add meaning and enhance the development of knowledge students will need to solve complex problems.”

Dr. Eugene Sanders, superintendent and CEO of Sandusky City Schools, said he is “delighted to be a part of the National Science Foundation-funded grant focusing on citizen scientists,” and is excited about the idea of “merging theory and practice, in which our students can learn science and apply it in a very practical way. Extending learning beyond the classroom into the community will be a great opportunity, and having one of the Great Lakes in our backyard presents a unique educational experience for our students.”

Three of the research projects are national and international in scope: GLOBE, a large-scale, international environmental research project comprising students in more than 110 countries; Monarch Watch, and FrogWatch USA. Some of the projects also have state or local connections. For instance, the Monarch project will also connect with the Ohio Lepidopterists Long Term Monitoring of Butterflies, and a rain garden project will connect with the Erie County Soil and Water Conversation District’s ongoing rain garden initiative. All of the research projects relate to the local environment in some way and will be aimed at benefitting the local community.

iEvolve (Inquiry and Engagement to Invigorate and Optimize Learning for Everyone with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) will help students and teachers learn how to fully participate in these real science research projects and help the schools integrate these research projects across the curriculum throughout the other areas of study. Citizen science research projects are specifically designed for participation of nonprofessional scientists such as grade school and high school students and teachers.

The timing and nature of iEvolve with STEM were a perfect fit for Perkins, said Superintendent James Gunner. Perkins has focused aggressively on boosting STEM education for several years and has implemented educational technology in the classroom “to halt the diminishing number of kids interested in the STEM fields and approach universal success in math and science,” he said. “The beauty of the iEvolve grant for us is it will allow us to migrate that down to the lower grades.”

This comes just in time for schools to address the higher core standards the state has adopted, he added. “The new standards are much more rigorous and will be in place by 2015. They call for more higher-order thinking skills and are really asking kids to think more, analyze more, synthesize more information and produce results.

“We think iEvolve will bring good things to us and, with all the professional development built into the grant, it will help teachers create differentiated instruction so every child can learn in a project-based environment.” 

iEvolve with STEM will start with students and teachers in grades 3-5 in the first period and then add students in grades 6-8 in the second period, starting in 2015. Teachers will participate in three years of professional development that will involve a workshop each summer and monthly meetings during the academic year.

Having the science teachers share their professional development with other faculty in the district will be an added benefit, Sanders said.

Students and teachers will meet with their collaborating scientists at the beginning and end of each year and will communicate periodically by video conferencing throughout the year as their project progresses.

The research projects will culminate each year with an annual Research Symposium at which students will present the results of their research to the community and collaborating scientists.

Among the numerous other external partners who will also be involved in the project are Ohio State University Stone Lab, the University of Toledo, Lourdes University, Owens Community College, the Toledo Zoo and Metroparks of the Toledo Area.

In addition to Midden, co-principal investigators for the grant include superintendents Gunner and Sanders, Dr. Emilio Duran, a faculty member in BGSU’s School of Teaching and Learning; and Mitch Magditch, curator of education for the Toledo Zoo. A number of other BGSU faculty from the College of Education and Human Development and College of Arts and Sciences will play major roles in the project.

The mission of NWO is to advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education for people of all ages. NWO serves the 29 counties of northwest Ohio in partnership with most of the higher education institutions, many K-12 school districts, and numerous nonprofit organizations and businesses that are devoted to excellence in STEM education.

iEvolve is one of several grant projects NWO is involved with and is part of the strategic plan for improving STEM education throughout the region so that all students are able to realize their full potential in their careers and in their lives.

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(Posted October 04, 2012 )