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UMass to aid Springfield science





By CHERYL B. WILSON, Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 27, 2002 -- AMHERST - A collaboration between the University of Massachusetts and Springfield public schools to bring graduate students, middle school teachers and pupils together in science research projects is ready to begin.

Each year for the next three years, 10 graduate students will work with a similar number of Springfield middle school teachers in teams organized by one of six UMass professors. The program is funded by a $1.38 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

"We are very excited about the possibilities," said UMass chemistry professor Julian Tyson, one of the project's leaders. "We have an extremely enthusiastic group of graduate students and I'm very impressed by the level of enthusiasm of the teachers.

"It's a big step up from the kind of activity I've been involved with in the schools," Tyson said. He has long participated in the NSF-funded Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Teacher Education Collaborative, sending undergraduate students into several school systems to help teach science.

"These are graduate students and they will be spending 10 hours a week in the schools," he said. Each graduate student will receive a $21,500 annual stipend.

Research topics will include water chemistry, arsenic from pressure-treated decks, ecology and behavior of birds, atmospheric ozone, the hydrology cycle and factors affecting plant growth.

Tyson said Mary Musgrave, one of the professors involved in the project, is working with NASA scientists on microgravity's affect on plants aboard the space station. "She has access to time aboard the space station and experiments can be followed on the surface of the planet," Tyson said. "Students can do the same experiment in their own classrooms."

Most of the work will take place in Springfield schools. Teachers may also visit the UMass labs and even bring middle school students to see state-of-the-art equipment.

Springfield was chosen, Tyson said, because UMass already has links to the school system through the UMass School of Education and project leader Kathleen Davis. All the teachers are working toward a master's degree in science education at UMass. Springfield also participates in the collaborative project, founded by emeritus physics professor Morton Sternheim, who will be involved in the new project, which is called STEM Connections.

Since 1999, the National Science Foundation program, called Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education, has been established across the country in 70 schools, Tyson said.

This year, awards were made to 18 universities, including Boston University, the University of Maine and the University of Connecticut. One goal is to provide a substantial group of scientists who are aware of the needs of local schools, Tyson said. "NSF is not trying to divert science graduate students into school teaching as a career, but I guess that would be a kind of bonus," he said.

"The program is successful because both students and teachers benefit from the opportunity to work with graduate students who are excited about science and math and who share the enthusiasm by involving students and teachers in hands-on experiences," said Judith Ramaley, NSF's assistant director for education and human resources.

Research progress will be posted on the Web site: k12s.phast.umass.edu/~stemtec.

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