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August 23, 2000
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Two major grants launch Partners in Science program
Princeton, N.J. -- Princeton University has received $745,000 in grants to co-direct a program that allows high-school teachers to work side-by-side with research scientists at six universities in New York and New Jersey.
Princeton and Columbia University are leading the "Partners in Science" program, which aims to help teachers go beyond a reliance on textbook-based teaching by immersing them for two summers in the day-to-day life of leading research labs.
"What we're doing is not so much training teachers in teaching technique as getting them excited about research," said Princeton chemistry professor Andrew Bocarsly, who co-directs the program. His counterpart at Columbia, Jay Dubner, added that "one of the program's strengths is the collaborations that develop between teachers and mentors that continue during the school year."
Partners in Science is a collaboration among Columbia University, New York University, Rutgers University-Camden, Seton Hall University, Stevens Institute of Technology and Princeton University. The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation provided an initial grant of $350,000 over three years, while the Lucent Technologies Foundation is giving $395,000 over the same period.
Princeton and the other institutions have conducted a similar program for more than 10 years on a considerably smaller scale and with less coordination among the institutions. It was originally funded by Research Corporation, an Arizona-based philanthropic foundation. The new funding from Dreyfus and Lucent gives the program the resources to provide intensive, mentored research opportunities for 36 high-school chemistry teachers.
Every year, each institution will select three new teachers in the chemical sciences from high schools within easy driving distance from the campus. For about eight weeks during the summer, faculty members will adopt the teachers as regular members of their laboratories, giving them research assignments alongside graduate students and postdoctoral researchers. They will return the following summer for another eight weeks, as three new teachers join them.
During the school years following their research, participants from all six institutions will gather for quarterly meetings to discuss their experiences and describe their plans to incorporate their insights into their teaching.
"Independent research is central to science. It is how we make discoveries and advance our understanding of the world around us," said Bocarsly. "Yet most high school teachers of science have prepared for their work in a system that emphasized textbook knowledge almost exclusively and separated teaching science from doing science. Often they have not had the experiences that allow them to convey the process and excitement of discovery to students."
For Louis Gatto, a chemistry teacher at Hunterdon Central Regional High School who is working in Bocarsly's lab this summer, the experience has completely changed his perception of research.
"Almost every high school lab is staged -- they are designed to succeed and I know the results they're going to get," said Gatto. "Being here I am actually seeing science in action. When I come in every day, we don't know what's going to happen. A lot of the people here work three months on something and it just fails."
Gatto is working on improving the chemistry of membranes used in fuel cells, devices that have the potential to replace gasoline power in cars and other applications.
James Looney of West Windsor-Plainsboro High School has found that his research experience has given him insights in answering students' off-the-cuff questions and in providing career advice. "The process of science is something I try to keep weaving through teaching," said Looney. "In the midst of giving the information, I am trying to convey how that information was obtained, and tell about related questions that remain unanswered today."
"The Partners in Science program has demonstrated clear value," said Dorothy Dinsmoor, president of the Dreyfus Foundation. "It shows that these collaborations make the processes and results of science accessible to teachers and hence strengthen high school teaching."
"The guiding principle for Lucent's philanthropy has been securing brighter futures for young people around the world, and we are focused on initiatives that are aimed at improving educational opportunities in numerous ways," said Richard Curcio of the Lucent Foundation, which supports university/public school partnerships designed to improve K-12 education. "The Partners in Science program provides a network of support among teachers that enables them to share their experiences and to incorporate best practices in their classrooms."
Note: Teachers participating in Partners in Science will be on campus at Princeton until the end of August. We would be happy to arrange interviews.