Breakout session B:
Breakout session B
Saturday, November 8, 2003
11:15am - 12:30 pm
Samuel C. Silverstein, Professor and Chair, Physiology and Cellular Biophysics- Columbia University
This breakout session will explore science work experience programs for teachers (SWEPTs). SWEPTs are formal programs created and run by colleges, universities, and professional schools, that provide opportunities for K-12 science teachers to do hands-on science under the mentorship of practicing scientists. The goal of these programs is to increase student awareness, interest and achievement in science by helping teachers to understand the processes of science by doing science. There are virtually no football coaches who have never played football. In contrast, it is rare to find an elementary or secondary school science teacher who has hands-on experience with the practice of science. "A concept of science drawn entirely from textbooks is no more likely to fit the enterprise that produced them than an image of a national culture drawn from a tourist brochure." Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
1. Colleges, universities and professional schools are financially strapped. There are many demands on faculty time. Why should these institutions and their faculty invest in K-12 education? Deficiencies in U.S. K-12 science education have been evident for twenty years1. Students who are "turned off" to science in elementary or high school, do not pursue science in college. The opportunities for improving human welfare through medicine, chemistry, physics, and information sciences have never been more promising. Yet the number of U.S. citizens pursuing Ph.D.-level training in biomedical and behavioral sciences has been constant for the last five years, and the number pursuing Ph.D. degrees in chemistry, physics, and information sciences has declined every year since 1998. Just as a scientifically competent workforce is required to maintain our economy, a scientifically literate populace is required to maintain our democracy. These concerns, and the belief that you cannot teach something you have not yourself done, led me in 1990 to found Columbia's Summer Research Program for Secondary School Science Teachers.
2. Why focus on teachers? If you want to interest and improve student performance in science, why not create programs for students? Aside from their parents, teachers are the adults who have the most sustained daily contact with, and the greatest potential to influence the beliefs and interests of, children and young adults. Each teacher interacts with 35-125 students/year. Over the course of 20 years one creative and charismatic teacher can influence as many as 2,500 students. Simply put, there is a multiplier effect in working with teachers that cannot be achieved by working with individual students. Important as it may be to provide science work opportunities for the most talented and interested students, it is even more important to provide such opportunities for teachers.
3. Teachers already have had four years of college. Many have a Masters Degree in addition. What can they learn in two months that they haven't already learned in college and graduate school? "Prior to my research experience at Columbia I taught my students about chemistry, now I teach chemistry." "Now I can visualize what I teach. All of the words came to life for me this summer." This is how Alexandra Bodha, who teaches chemistry at Wm. Maxwell Vocational High School, and Barbara Lillien, who teaches biology at South Shore High School, both in New York City, described the impacts of their experiences in Columbia's Summer Research Program.
For many teachers, and most students, the materials and methods of science appear unrelated to their daily experiences. Few teachers, and even fewer students, interact with or know a scientist. Except for the rare student who knows he/she wants a career in science, most students who enter science are encouraged to do so by an inspiring teacher, a teacher who makes the process of discovery alive and exciting. Students whose intermediate and high school science courses involve rote memorization of abstract terms invented by bearded old men, whose laboratory experiences are restricted to cook-book exercises of no apparent practical usefulness, are unlikely to find science interesting or to pursue it in college.
4. What is Columbia's Summer Research Program and how does it work? Each spring, 10 secondary school science teachers from New York City, Westchester, Nassau, Rockland, and Bergen County secondary schools are selected by the Program's Advisory Committee from ~50-70 applicants. Teachers are selected on the basis of evidence of leadership in their schools, sufficient course work in science to be able to understand and participate in the research ongoing in Columbia labs, and a personal interview. They perform full-time hands-on laboratory research in astronomy, biology, chemistry, earth science, medical science, or physics, under the supervision of a member of Columbia's faculty for two consecutive summers. They become regular members of their laboratory's research team, participating in all its activities. It is the program's key element, to which each teacher devotes >80% of his/her time.
Teachers are appointed Visiting Scholars in Columbia University, which enables them to use all of Columbia's resources, including its libraries. They receive a stipend of $6,000/summer, and $1,000 following each summer to purchase supplies/materials/equipment needed to translate the concepts/technologies they learn at Columbia into classroom and school laboratory exercises. Professor O. Roger Anderson of Columbia's Teachers College, and their peers in the program, provide them with pedagogical assistance in developing these exercises. Teachers meet as a group one day/week for a scientific seminar led by a member of Columbia's faculty, to participate in a series of pedagogical activities designed to fortify their classroom instruction, to learn about educational resources available on the Internet or at one of New York's great public institutions (e.g., American Museum of Natural History, New York Hall of Science, etc.), to tell one another about the research they are doing, and to network with one another. By the end of a summer, teachers have become a professional learning community, celebrating one another's successes, sharing one another's frustrations, helping one another to find new ways to make science come alive in the classroom. Mr. Jay Dubner, the Program's only paid employee, has been responsible for designing and facilitating many of the workshops including "Internet as a Research Tool," "Grant Writing for the Classroom Teacher," and "Introduction to PowerPoint." In addition, Mr. Dubner coordinates all of the weekly seminar activities. During the 2003 Summer Seminar Series, there were 35 separate activities.
5. How much does the program cost, and who pays for it? Columbia faculty generously contribute their time and welcome teachers into their laboratories, thereby making the invaluable human and physical resources of this great research university available to the teachers, and through them, to their students. Program funders in 2003 include the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, Laura B. Vogler Foundation, Lucent Technologies Foundation, National Science Foundation, The New York Times Company Foundation, The Pfizer Foundation, and The Waksman Foundation for Microbiology. Grants from these foundations cover the full costs of teacher stipends, enrichment funds, laboratory supplies and other direct expenses, which total ~$10,500/teacher/summer. Other administrative expenses total ~$90,000/year, bringing the program's total direct annual costs for 20-22 teachers to about $300,000, or a total of $30,000/teacher for the two-year program. Most teachers remain in teaching for more than10 years following completion of the program. Assuming each teacher teaches ~100 students/year, the program costs ~$30 per student, about the cost of 15 slices of pizza with no extra toppings.
6. Is there evidence that students benefit from their teachers' participation in Columbia's Summer Research Program? John Dewey conceived of the Lab School at the University of Chicago as a laboratory in which to explore new educational practices. We have followed Dewey's example and studied the impacts of teacher participation in Columbia's program on their students. At the breakout session I will describe studies showing that in the year prior to entry into Columbia's program, students of participating teachers passed the New York State Regents exam in the science taught by that teacher at the same rate as students in the sciences classes of non-participating teachers in the same school. In contrast, in the years following a teacher's completion of Columbia's program, more of their students were involved in after school science clubs and Intel-type science projects, and significantly more of them passed the New York State Regents examination in the science taught by the participating teacher than students in the sciences classes of non-participating teachers in the same school. Our data indicate these benefits are long lasting, continuing to pay dividends five or more years after teachers complete Columbia's program.
Summary. Science is at the forefront of the development of contemporary culture. To paraphrase Timothy Ferris, science is what we humans do best at the beginning of the 21st century. It is like sailing in the time of Prince John the Navigator, and music in the time of Mozart. Its tools and concepts are changing more rapidly than at any time in history, making it more difficult than ever for biology, chemistry, physics, and earth science teachers to maintain contact with the tools, materials, and concepts of their sciences. SWEPTs enable teachers to obtain hands-on experience with these tools, materials and concepts, and with leading practitioners of science. SWEPTs make the existing human and physical resources of our nation's universities available to primary and secondary school teachers at minimal added cost. They are a complementary form of professional development, not a substitute for in service programs, graduate courses, or other types of professional development. Schools and school systems should collaborate with neighboring colleges, universities, hospitals, and businesses in developing and supporting SWEPT experiences for all science teachers.
1 Gardner, David, Larsen, Yvonne, A Nation at Risk, National Commission on Excellence in Education, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C., April 1983