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UW to Participate in $12 Million Multi-state Ecological Research Program
November 18, 2008 — The University of Wyoming Science and Mathematics Teaching Center (SMTC) will partner with four other universities in a multi-state ecological research project funded by a $12 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).
"Culturally Relevant Ecology, Learning Progressions, and Environmental Literacy" will help teachers bring to their classrooms what they learned at professional development programs offered through Long Term Ecological Research Sites (LTERS). The NSF established the LTERS program in 1980 to support research on long-term ecological phenomena in the United States.
The NSF's Mathematics-Science Partnership Program funds the five-year project. UW's team will work closely with Colorado State University faculty, which has a longstanding relationship with the Short Steppe Grass LTER site and partner school districts. The other three schools in the NSF-funded program are the Michigan State University, Towson State University (Maryland) and the University of California-Santa Barbara.
"We'll pay particular attention to processes that improve students' ability to build upon what they learn in school to understand increasingly complex scientific concepts," says Robert Mayes, SMTC director.
He says a partnership of universities, LTERs and school districts already exists.
"But there is some concern about how to bring the teachers to these sites, have them do field-based science with the scientists and then translate that into the K-12 curriculum to have a meaningful impact," Mayes says. "How do you actually go about creating a systemic change in these schools?"
He says the focus will be on three ecological areas -- carbon, water and biodiversity -- plus quantitative reasoning and place-based learning. A component of these field-based efforts is the emphasis on local research by school children.
"It's not just field-based, it is the field outside your door," Mayes says. "And it's also not just being outdoors, it is engaging in science that impacts communities."
Other project leaders are Mark Lyford, lecturer in the UW Department of Botany, and SMTC Coordinator Sylvia Parker. Other UW faculty and graduate students also are expected to participate as the project progresses.
"I envision that our piece is going to be the quantitative reasoning aspect and the place-based aspect," Mayes says.
SMTC will collaborate on examining learning trajectories in the study of the carbon and water cycles and biodiversity, focusing on the impact of quantitative reasoning and place-based learning of these trajectories.