April 30, 2007

Purdue doctoral students take lessons to area middle schools

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Students at area middle schools received hands-on experience in science and mathematics, such as solving a crime scenario by determining probabilities in facial recognition, as doctoral students from Purdue University served as visiting scientists.

It was all part of Purdue's GK12, a federally funded interdisciplinary program that sent the Purdue students into the schools two days a week this year.

Frankfort, Klondike, and Southwestern and Tecumseh schools participated, and each of the four middle schools had two visiting scientists.

The program is intended to give Purdue students who received the fellowships experience in teaching and to get children thinking about college as they are nearing high school age.

"We try to bring a few main things together, to get the children interested in the sciences through hands-on experiences and to give them a better understanding of how math and science interrelate and how they're applied to solve problems," said Melissa Dark, assistant dean and associate professor of computer and information technology in Purdue's College of Technology. "The third thing is, the fellows are there to serve as role models for the students."

Purdue's fellows worked with math and science teachers to bring the students a variety of hands-on learning experiences. Areas of study included earth and atmospheric science, chemistry, food sciences, math, engineering, and industrial technology.

The visiting scientists took real-life scenarios and used the scientific methods to determine results. One such scenario was a make-believe crime for Frankfort students.

At Southwestern, students took swaths from behind their ears and developed hypotheses as to the bacteria they would find. The visiting scientist took the swaths back to Purdue laboratories and allowed the cultures to grow, then brought them back for the students to count the colonies of bacteria and see how it matched their hypotheses.

"It's intended to help the fellows communicate their sciences to diverse audiences and to increase their abilities to teach," said Dark, who is leading the program. "It's also about helping the doctoral students start thinking more broadly about their responsibilities as emerging faculty members.

"The teachers benefit, too, in that this helps them develop more hands-on lessons."

The program was made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation, which is providing about $600,000 a year over a three-year period. The grant is to Purdue's Discovery Learning Center, which will mark the end of the first year of GK12 with a half-day event on Thursday (May 3) at the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship. Each of the eight fellows will speak and show posters highlighting their work, as will the eight teachers they were paired with.

As this year's initial program ends, Purdue leaders already are planning for next year. Dark said teachers interested in the program should contact her at (765) 494-7661, dark@purdue.edu . Interested teachers also can request lessons that have been developed. Dark said there also are plans for a regional workshop.

Writer: Jim Bush (765) 494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu

Sources: Melissa Dark, (765) 494-7661, dark@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu

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