Professional Development

Scientific-Research Opportunities Await Nation’s Teachers

By David J. Hoff — December 13, 2000 2 min read
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Teachers traveling to Antarctica leave their homes and classrooms for up to eight weeks, keep daily records of their work, mentor colleagues on how to incorporate polar research into their classrooms, and create lesson plans related to their research for posting on the Web.

All that in exchange for the expedition of a lifetime.

The National Science Foundation has been making that deal with five to 10 teachers a year since 1992. Four years later, the independent federal agency started sending teachers to the Arctic for summer research projects.

The NSF has selected the participants for the summer of 2001 and the winter of 2001-02. Application information is available at www.tea.rice.edu.

Between the North and South poles, teachers have a variety of other opportunities to engage in scientific research under federal and private sponsorship.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration offers a program in which teachers cruise on research vessels and help with the scientific explorations taking place aboard ship. Like the NSF’s Teachers Experiencing Antarctica and the Arctic program, teachers keep logs of their trips and search for ways to apply their experiences in the classroom.

For NOAA’s Sustainable Seas Expeditions, teachers conduct research in solo trips in submersible research vessels. The teachers are trained to pilot the equipment and collect data that NOAA researchers need for their research.

The U.S. Department of Energy offers internships for college students studying to be teachers. The future math, science, and technology teachers are each assigned to work on a project at one of the department’s research laboratories, which include the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y., and the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in Palo Alto, Calif.

Private Endeavors

In the private sector, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has been a major supporter of teachers engaging in scientific research. Since 1990, the Bethesda, Md., grantmaker has supported projects at 18 sites, including the National Institutes of Health, Princeton University, Baylor University, and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The research group makes annual grants totaling $1.5 million for that purpose.

The Jason Project, an annual science expedition designed for students, also has programs for teachers. Every summer, before students tackle the project, teachers from around the country visit the site and conduct their own research.

Eighteen teachers went to Hawaii this year in preparation for this winter’s expedition there.

The Jason Project, the Needham Heights, Mass.-based nonprofit group subsidized by the National Geographic Society and a variety of corporations, also sells a curriculum package and supplemental laboratory materials designed to illuminate the current year’s scientific expedition.

In some cases, teachers can find local sources of funding for their own, original research projects.

With a grant from a local foundation’s R.E.B. Awards for Teaching Excellence, a Virginia high school science teacher financed a trip to Mount Everest. On the trip, Jim Lehman of Mills Godwin High School in the Henrico County school district in suburban Richmond collected data on his blood-oxygen levels at various elevations, measured the effect of gravity as he hiked farther from the earth’s center, and took readings of ultraviolet light to determine how altitude affected those readings.

Mr. Lehman now uses those data to teach data analysis as well as specific scientific principles, such as the slight weakening of gravitational pull at high altitudes. —david j. hoff

A version of this article appeared in the December 13, 2000 edition of Education Week as Scientific-Research Opportunities Await Nation’s Teachers

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