Ohio State receives $2.9 million NSF grant to boost K-12 science education

March 7, 2007

[Embargoed until noon ET March 9, 2007, to coincide with the NSF GK-12 New Projects Meeting in Washington, D.C.]

WOOSTER, Ohio — Ohio State University’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC) has received a $2.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to help boost science education in Ohio schools and prepare the future generation of U.S. scientists.

Part of NSF’s Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) Program, the grant will team up OARDC researchers, OSU Extension specialists and graduate students in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES, http://cfaes.osu.edu) with elementary and secondary school teachers and students in northeast Ohio.

Principal investigator Richard Moore, an OARDC researcher and OSU Extension specialist with the Department of Human and Community Resource Development, said the five-year GK-12 program will focus on watershed science as a model for incorporating multiple disciplines into a holistic, systemic educational approach to create a cooperative learning opportunity.

“This grant addresses two basic needs,” said Moore, also a member of the Agroecosystems Management Program (AMP) based on OARDC’s Wooster campus. “One is that schools need to improve their science curriculum and proficiency. The other is the shortage of science teachers in the country as a whole.”

Education experts agree that addressing such needs is crucial for Ohio to attract and retain 21st century businesses, and to create and sustain high-skill, high-wage jobs. In a report presented last month to the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio Department of Education and Gov. Ted Strickland, a statewide advisory group co-chaired by Ohio State President Karen Holbrook called for bold action to strengthen the system of mathematics and science education and make high-level mathematics and science courses available to all Ohio students.

The NSF grant will build upon work conducted by the Sugar Creek Watershed Project, a grassroots effort partnering 25 Ohio State scientists with local farming communities in Wayne and Holmes counties with the goal of improving water quality and maintaining economic viability in the area. Sugar Creek — a headwaters of the Muskingum River, which drains about one-fourth of Ohio — has been labeled as the second most degraded watershed in the Buckeye state.

The GK-12 program will benefit East Holmes, Fairless, Garaway, Green and Wooster City school districts; Kingsway Christian School; and several Amish parochial schools. The program hopes to expand to additional school districts, Moore said. Other partners in the endeavor include the Soil and Water Conservation Districts of Wayne and Holmes counties, the Wilderness Center in Wilmot, the Wayne County Economic Development Council, the John Glenn School of Public Affairs, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Farmers Union.

“The Sugar Creek Project captivates the imagination because it now focuses on the next generation: young people who will be the leaders and decision-makers in the future,” OARDC Director Steve Slack said.

As part of the grant, members of the Sugar Creek research team will serve as mentors for graduate fellows, who will work directly with teachers and students. The fellows — eight different ones each year of the project, starting in the 2007-08 school year — will bring their technical knowledge of watershed ecology into the schools, helping educators develop and deliver curriculum through a hands-on approach. At the same time, the fellows will grow professionally in their knowledge of pedagogy, varied learning styles and educational assessment by interacting with teachers and young pupils.

“We will be working very closely with the schools to develop the curriculum,” noted Moore, also a member of CFAES’ Social Responsibility Initiative (SRI). “Just like everything else we do in the Sugar Creek project, this will be a grassroots effort. In the case of the Amish schools, for example, we will adapt the curriculum to reflect their approach to education and their values.”

The graduate students — yet to be selected or recruited — will come from the School of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Human and Community Resource Development (specifically rural sociology), the Department of Entomology, and the university’s multi-college Environmental Science Graduate Program.

Moore pointed out that widespread support for the Sugar Creek project from the communities and school superintendents within the watershed was key to obtaining this grant.

Laura Grimm agrees. A fifth-grade teacher at Kidron Elementary School in southeast Wayne County, she has been involved with the Sugar Creek Project during the past few years, developing a water science-based curriculum with support from OARDC. She said this NSF program — and all the technology her students will be exposed to as part of it — “is a very thrilling prospect” for educators who wish to create real-connections in the teaching of science.

“I am excited about the possibilities this grant will afford,” said Grimm, the 2001 Ohio Conservation Primary Educator of the Year. “It will enhance my teaching in all aspects of the science curriculum. It is important to help students see the ‘real-life’ connections of that which they learn in science class. These activities will give students terrific opportunities to investigate the positive and negative impacts of human activity and technology on their immediate environment.”

James Williams, administrator of Kingsway Christian School in Orrville, said this program will help his students see that the work they do in the classroom is meaningful.

“I want students to learn that water quality is very important in the stewardship of the Earth,” said Williams, who has worked with Moore in the past incorporating watershed science into the school’s environmental science classes. “They will take experiments and analyses more seriously because all of this will be connected to something larger than a classroom project.”

Co-principal investigators in the grant are Lance Williams, Virginie Bouchard, Charles Goebel and Amanda Rodewald (School of Environment and Natural Resources); Deborah Stinner and Parwinder Grewal (Department of Entomology); and Casey Hoy, Kellogg Endowed Chair in Agroecosystems Management.

Other collaborators include Marsha Williams (project coordinator) and Robert Bargar from Ohio State; Mark Weaver, Karen Skubik and Dave McConnell from the College of Wooster; and Neil Knobloch from the University of Illinois.

The Sugar Creek Watershed Restoration Project is part of Ohio State’s Climate, Water and Carbon Program — one of 10 high-impact programs chosen by the university for its Targeted Investment in Excellence (TIE) initiative, a $100 million commitment over five years to address some of society’s most pressing challenges.

The Climate, Carbon and Water Program will look at such critical issues as climate change, the availability of enough fresh water to maintain the world’s population, and the impact of fossil fuel combustion on the Earth’s atmosphere. The program brings together faculty experts from the CFAES, the College of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, the College Social and Behavioral Sciences, the Byrd Polar Research Center, and the John Glenn School of Public Affairs.

For more information about the GK-12 grant and the Sugar Creek Watershed Project, contact Moore, (330) 202-3538, moore.11@osu.edu, or Lance Williams, (614) 292-7739, williams.2157@osu.edu.

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Author(s): 
Mauricio Espinoza
Source(s): 
Richard Moore