Public Release: 

Washington University gets $6.5 NSF grant for math and science outreach program

Washington University in St. Louis

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the Washington University in St. Louis Science Outreach Office in Arts & Sciences a five-year, $6.5 million grant to enhance science and mathematics teaching in St. Louis schools.

The program is called the St. Louis Inner Ring Cooperative (SIRC). Designed to meet the challenges set forth by President Bush in the No Child Left Behind Act, SIRC will help teachers meet the needs of students performing below their peers in science and math. At Washington University, SIRC will drive development of a spectrum of undergraduate and graduate education courses. In partnership with the St. Louis Science Center, SIRC will coordinate the development of a community resource center that will provide educational supplies and opportunities for teachers and parents.

"The grant allows top-flight researchers and educators in higher education to interact with elementary and junior high students and teachers, who will benefit from the outstanding resources in St. Louis,"said Edward Macias, Ph.D., Dean of Arts & Sciences, and principal investigator for SIRC. "It creates an atmosphere that brings excitement and enlightenment to students and teachers alike. It's a big boost to science education in St. Louis."

SIRC was developed with the St. Louis Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning (CISTL) project. NSF recently awarded funding to the Department of Education for CISTL. Together, SIRC and CISTL form a synergistic alliance between Washington University, the Saint Louis Zoo, and the St. Louis Science Center. The school district partners for SIRC are Ferguson-Florissant, Maplewood-Richmond Heights, University City, Riverview Gardens, and Webster Groves. The educational research generated through both grant projects will add to the growing national data on best practices in teaching science and math.

"This is an exciting project, because we will be able to help school districts as they determine their own needs and develop strategies for meeting them," said Victoria May, Director of Science Outreach, and SIRC project director. "Washington University will act as a partner with schools, providing in-class supports, graduate courses for teachers and evaluation."

SIRC's major efforts are targeted to support schools in areas where students have the most trouble performing on Missouri standardized tests. Missouri MAP test scores show that schools statewide have difficulty in helping students in grades 4-8 test well in math and science.

Through SIRC, district teams will engage in strategic planning institutes for science and math education. WU, the St. Louis Science Center, and the Saint Louis Zoo will provide implementation support for schools as they adopt new inquiry based curriculum. The community resource center, which will be housed at a St. Louis Science Center facility, is a major component of the teacher support network. Carol Valenta, Vice President for Education, Exhibits and Programs at the St. Louis Science Center, is a director on the SIRC project with May.

SIRC also provides support to new teachers, who are at risk for leaving the profession. Washington University will develop a new science inquiry course for education majors. SIRC also funds development of a critical literacy lab in Education. This facility will allow new teachers and student teachers to assess their classroom practices using videotaping and faculty feedback.

As teachers move beyond the first critical years of service, SIRC will provide for a progression of professional development courses for teachers of grades K-12, with emphasis on grades 4-8. Different courses will be designed for inexperienced teachers, experienced teachers, and master level teachers. The courses will focus on appropriate science and math content and classroom pedagogy. St. Louis Science Center and Saint Louis Zoo resources will be part of this teacher professional development. The SIRC project also includes community-based programs designed to narrow achievement gaps between white and African-American students in math and science. The community programs will provide tutoring for younger students, college preparation for high school students, and training for school guidance counselors. The college preparatory program is based on an existing program at the St. Louis Science Center.

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