A 2010 Report to the President from the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology calls for “research and development to create “well-designed and validated examples of comprehensive, integrated instructional materials” for K-12 education. The Center for Functional Nanoscale Materials (CFNM) at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) and the Center for Science Education at Emory University have partnered in a program that provides a collaborative experience between CAU graduate students and Atlanta area high school and middle school teachers. The partnership expands Emory’s PRISM (Problems and Research to Integrate Science and Mathematics) program, a NSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) program. We believe that personal and experiential collaboration between these stakeholders in materials education provides even more substantial and tangible benefits.
PRISM aims to stimulate reflection, by providing teachers and graduate students (PRISM Fellows) with an opportunity to lead in producing knowledge about pedagogical practice in STEM areas. By direct linkage with pedagogic theory, teaching practice can be subjected to continuous improvement, and it is anticipated that participants will catalyze change in both the educational and research communities.
CFNM/PRISM Program ensures that both categories of Fellows participate in professional development activities designed to propagate active learning pedagogies and reflective practice during an annual Summer Institute. Teachers are immersed in a content-rich nano- and materials science research environment, while the graduate fellows have the opportunity during the subsequent academic year to assist with instruction in local schools. Thirteen graduate students and seventeen teachers have participated in the CFNM/PRISM Program over the course of five years. Teams were formed that comprised a teacher, a CAU faculty researcher and a graduate student. Each team tackled a nanoscience research problem during a summer project, developed problem-based learning (PBL) and investigative case-based learning strategies that integrate grade-appropriate science and math content, and implemented the cases in middle school and high school classrooms.
The program has been preliminarily evaluated using online written attitudinal surveys and interviews with participants. Most striking among our observations is that teachers report an enhancement of their science process skills, including an increased ability to design and implement experiments for their students. Correspondingly, graduate students report a better understanding of the importance and practice of mentoring, as well as improved ability to articulate complex scientific concepts to lay audiences. Finally, since the student body at CAU and in these Atlanta area school systems is predominantly of African American heritage, the project also contributes to diversification of the Nation’s scientific enterprise.