STEM Education Gets Boost from New Round of Grants

By Erik W. Robelen — January 20, 2012 3 min read
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Efforts to improve STEM education are getting a boost from several recent announcements, including grants from the National Science Foundation and the Gates Foundation to drive research and development, as well as a new initiative that will send a lucky batch of science teachers down to Costa Rica for an eco-expedition.

First, researchers at the University of Virginia and the Concord Consortium have received a $1.35 million NSF grant to create new kinds of science lab activities that bridge virtual and real environments, according to a UVA press release.

“Many science classrooms use simulations to demonstrate scientific principles and theories,” said Jennifer Chiu, an assistant professor of STEM education at UVA’s Curry School of Education, in the press release. “However, students have trouble making connections between the simulations and the real world.”

Second, the NSF recently announced a grant competition under its Computing Education for the 21st Century program.

The work involves three strands, one of which is the lack of computing education at the K-12 level. Through a project dubbed CS 10K, the NSF is seeking to have rigorous academic curricula incorporated into computing courses in 10,000 high schools, taught by 10,000 well-trained teachers. Proposals can target a diverse range of activities, such developing course materials, pedagogy, and professional development.

The NSF anticipates providing $13 million per year over three years for the grants. It will award between 13 and 20 grants. The deadline for applications is April 9.

(For more on the challenges of computer science, check out this EdWeek story about efforts to elevate the status and quality of computing in schools.)

Third, we just learned that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Education Arcade is getting $3 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to design, build, and research a multi-player online game to help high school students learn math and biology.

The game to be developed under this grant will be designed as part of a genre of games in which many players’ avatars can interact or cooperate and compete directly in the same virtual world.

“The genre of games is uniquely suited to teaching the nature of scientific inquiry, because they provide collaborative, self-directed learning situations,” said associate professor Eric Klopfer from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in a press release. “Players take on the role of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to explore and explain a robust virtual world.”

Finally, the Northrop Grumman Foundation yesterday announced a new initiative that will provide 16 middle and high school science teachers the chance each year to visit Costa Rica to experience firsthand field collection of biodiversity and climate data, and bring these learning opportunities to their classrooms.

“We believe that providing a hands-on environmental experience to science teachers will give them insight and inspiration that they can pass on to their students,” said Sandra Evers-Manly, the president of the foundation, which was created and is supported by the aerospace and defense company, in a press release.

The new program is a partnership between Northrop Grumman Foundation and Conservation International.

Earlier this year, I wrote about (and participated in) another Northrop Grumman initiative to get science teachers excited about their subjects and to bring that learning back to their schools. The company’s foundation recently wrapped up a six-year effort that allowed teachers to get a firsthand taste of the weightless experience astronauts go through when training for space missions.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.