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Grad Students Rethink Teaching Science

blog_dirt_nsfUCSC graduate training program is awarded $2.1 million by the NSF
The National Science Foundation has awarded a team at UC Santa Cruz a $2.1 million dollar grant to create a graduate training program aimed at teaching environmental science graduate students how to become effective communicators of science with non-scientists.

The program, known as SCWIBLES (Santa Cruz-Watsonville Inquiry-Based Learning in Environmental Sciences), will facilitate a partnership between UCSC grad students and Watsonville area high school teachers in developing and implementing a set of curriculum emphasizing engagement and application of science, rather than just the theory.
High school students participating in the program will be expected to create, administer, and present scientific projects throughout the year with graduate students acting as mentors, both within classrooms and individually for senior projects.

Dan Johnston, co-director of the Watsonville High School ESNR Academy and one of the coordinators of the project, says that this kind of inquiry-based teaching as opposed to more traditional classroom methods creates excitement and ownership of the projects.

“It’s the process as much as it is the product that we’re trying to foster in these students,” he says.

Grad students will also be strongly encouraged to participate in the new Designated Emphasis in Education program, a supplemental graduate minor that focuses on effective teaching and learning in cross-cultural contexts.

Organizers hope that by learning how to become effective communicators and representatives of science in high schools, grad students will also be more effective when talking with politicians, business leaders, and stakeholders about the science that affects them and their interests.

Additionally, by working with high schools in the predominantly Latino Pajaro Valley School District, the project hopes to address the lack of diversity and representation in environmental decision-making.

Gregory Gilbert, SCWIBLES director and UCSC professor of environmental studies, explains, “environmental problems disproportionately affect people of color, but most environmental professionals are not people of color” leaving the individuals with the most at stake in environmental policy largely without influence.

By creating innovative and hands-on curriculum in conjunction with grad student support, SCWIBLES hopes to create the interest and guidance for students of color to more easily pursue and achieve careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The program begins this summer with students in grades 10-12 in the ESNR Academy of Watsonville High School but will spread to other schools within the district over following years.
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