March 11, 2010

Scientist-in-the-Classroom Partnership Impacts Metro Nashville Public Schools

Vanderbilt has received a $1 million federal stimulus grant to evaluate the long-term impact of a “Scientist-in-the-Classroom” partnership program designed to enhance learning and encourage students to pursue careers in science.

During the past 10 years, more than 12,000 middle school students in Nashville have participated in experiments led by their teachers and visiting scientists from Vanderbilt, Tennessee State University, Fisk University and Meharry Medical College.

The program is coordinated by the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and the partner universities.

“The Scientist-in-the-Classroom Partnership program has been one of the most exciting and successful programs between our local school system and our local universities,” said Jesse Register, director of Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“Our students and teachers have benefited tremendously from this program, and we are excited to see it continuing as an integral part of our schools,” Register said.

“With two adults in the classroom, the students are actually able to do science,” said Virginia Shepherd, director of the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach.

“As increasing demands are placed on teachers, they are not always able to keep abreast of changes in the sciences,” Shepherd said. “This program gives them confidence in the subject matter.”

At the same time, “the scientists increase their teaching and communication skills and gain more confidence speaking in front of a group,” she added. “In turn, the students develop real passion for science and have shown better achievement on content tests.”

The two-year federal grant from the National Institutes of Health will allow Shepherd and her colleagues to evaluate the impact of the program on student attitudes and achievement in science over the past 10 years.
In particular, they will examine how minority scientists may influence students’ career choices.

“When kids see underrepresented minorities doing science, it dawns on them that not only could they go to college but they could become a doctor or a researcher,” Shepherd said.