March 12, 2010

Study to examine impact of science education program

Study to examine impact of science education program

Vanderbilt's Virginia Shepherd, Ph.D., has received a $1 million federal stimulus grant to evaluate the impact of the Scientist-in-the-Classroom Partnership program involving Metro Nashville Public Schools, Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach and three other local universities.

More than 12,000 middle school students have had a trained scientist lead experiments in their classroom through the Scientist-in-the-Classroom Partnership program, which places a graduate or postgraduate scientist

Virginia Shepherd, Ph.D.

Virginia Shepherd, Ph.D.

“The Scientist-in-the-Classroom Partnership program has been one of the most exciting and successful programs between our local school system and our local universities,” said MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register.
“Our students and teachers have benefited tremendously from this program, and we are excited to see it continuing as an integral part of our schools.”

Shepherd said the students, teachers and scientists all profit from the program.

“With two adults in the classroom, the students are actually able to do science,” she said.

“As increasing demands are placed on teachers, they are not always able to keep abreast of changes in the sciences. This program gives them confidence in the subject matter. The scientists increase their teaching and communication skills and gain more confidence speaking in front of a group. In turn, the students develop real passion for science and have shown better achievement on content tests.”

Since its launch in 2000, 30 schools, 76 teachers, 85 scientists and more than 12,000 students have participated in the Scientist-in-the-Classroom program.

Shepherd and her team will take a retrospective look at 10 years of data to evaluate the impact of the program on changed student attitudes or achievement in science.

They are also examining changes in the teachers' comfort level with science and graduate students' attitudes toward outreach and hope to determine how the program could be replicated nationally.

The researchers will also be evaluating the impact scientists have had from a mentoring capacity, especially with underrepresented minorities.

“When kids see underrepresented minorities doing science, it dawns on them that not only could they go to college but they could become a doctor or a researcher,” Shepherd said.

Shepherd, professor of Pathology and director of the Center for Science Outreach, received a $1 million Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) Education Grant from the National Institutes of Health.