Engaging children in science has been a prime objective of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund since it became an independent, private foundation in 1994. The Fund operates on the principle that all children, regardless of their future career path, need basic science literacy to participate fully in civic life. One of the Fund’s long-standing grant-making activities puts that principle into practice. The Student Science Enrichment Program, or SSEP, which has been supporting informal science education programs across the state of North Carolina since 1996, provides more than $3 million annually to support creative science education activities for primary and secondary students in North Carolina. The SSEP is informal science education at its best, with a major emphasis on hands-on, inquiry-based activities. On this edition of Focus In Sound, we pay a visit to the SSEP Directors and Advisory Committee’s Annual Meeting, which took place August 11, 2010 at the Fund’s headquarters at Research Triangle Park. The gathering is an opportunity for the individual grantees to present their programs and results to the advisory committee members, and for everyone to interact, exchange ideas, and engage in career development activities.
Transcription of “Informal Science Education”
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Welcome to Focus In Sound, the podcast series from the Focus newsletter published by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. I’m your host science writer Ernie Hood. Engaging Children and Science has been a prime objective of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund since it became an independent private foundation in 1994. The fund operates on the principle that all children, regardless of their future career path, need basic science literacy to participate fully in civic life.
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One of the fund’s long standing grantmaking activities puts that principle into practice. The students science Enrichment Program, or SSEP, which has been supporting informal science education programs across the state of North Carolina since 1996, provides more than $3 million annually to support creative science education activities for primary and secondary students in North Carolina. The SSEP is informal science education at its best, with a major emphasis on hands on inquiry based activities.
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On this edition of Focus In Sound, we pay a visit to the SSEP Directors and Advisory Committees Annual meeting, which took place August 11th, 2010, at the Fund’s headquarters at Research Triangle Park. The gathering is an opportunity for the individual grantees to present their programs and results to the advisory committee members and for everyone to interact, exchange ideas and engage in career development activities.
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I had the pleasure of speaking with several grantees, advisory committee members and fund officials, and with the following excerpts from those interviews, we’ll paint an intimate portrait of the student science enrichment program, how it works, why it’s so important, and how successful it is, making a real positive difference in the lives of thousands of North Carolina students and their amazingly dedicated teachers.
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First, let’s meet one of those outstanding teachers, Kayla Rakowski, from Cherokee Middle School on the Cherokee Reservation at Cherokee, North Carolina. She directs a two week summer science program called CSI Cherokee Science Investigation.
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This is my third year of the program. We serve Native American students, mostly Cherokee students, who are rising seventh, eighth and ninth graders. So mainly a middle school program. This past year, we had 30 participants to week long, a whole array of science activities. We focus, we it’s different every year. But this year we did an environmental focus.
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We do forensics. We do paleontology. We did that this year. We do college visits. We tour science departments at colleges in the area. Things like that. Our kids at at Cherokee, we’ve been in a status that academics have not been very important in the past and science has not been very important. And I wanted that to change. And a lot of my colleagues wanted that to change.
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And so I thought that this would be the first step to do that. I have to say that the climate in our school this past year was the most wonderful academic oriented climate that we’ve had since I’ve been there, and I really feel like the students are becoming more interested in science. Matter of fact, they’re taking higher level courses in high school.
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I have a very good line of communication with their high school science teachers, and they’re actually offering an AP chemistry course this year, which is the first time that that’s been offered in my students. Those students are doing this camp are the ones who are participating in that, and they’re coming back and telling me, Oh, we learned this today and my our science class or whatever it is, and the teachers are I go to them and ask them, how is this student and this student?
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These are my students. And they just think that it’s wonderful that that they’re doing they’re ahead of the pack. I have students who participated who are going into it to be a senior in high school, and a lot of them that I’ve spoken with are interested in science as a career.
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One of the most exciting recent developments in the SSEP has been the expansion of the grants program into elementary schools, bringing the benefits of informal extracurricular STEM education to younger students. Chip Kathy is principal of Webb, a Murray Elementary school in Hickory, North Carolina, where an S.B. program targets Hispanic schoolchildren.
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Our SCC program is called Adventurous this year, and it’s targeted at improving the confidence and the science knowledge for our third grade English as a second language learner. Students at our school. The program is a three week summer program. When students come and learn about earth science, physical science and environmental studies. The program serve 16 students annually, and we’ve run two iterations of the camp.
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So we’ve served 30, just barely over 30 students. We as a school are have 437 students, 68% free and reduced lunch and roughly 30% Hispanic. So this is a this program is a great way to reach out to a major portion of our school. The program is conducted strictly in English to increase the students English skills.
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What kind of results have you seen?
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The results have been really exciting. We’ve seen the obvious things we expected. We measured pre and post content test, and that test was a strand of third through sixth grade North Carolina standard course of study material and we’ve seen, you know, marketable improvement on that as we expected. We’ve also seen an attitude increase towards science from the students using the NAACP General attitudinal survey developed by Sally Bonds.
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We’ve seen that. In addition, however, we’ve seen some unexpected outcomes. We were in entitled one School Improvement for Hispanic and English language Learners. And since instituting the program, along with some other measures we’ve taken, we’ve exited Title one school improvement. So our we met AYP and rating for the past two years so that that has been a big blessing.
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Probably the camp has contributed to that. The other one is the relationship with parents. We’ve really got parents in the doors and excited about what we’re doing and we developed relationships with 30 families at a much deeper level than we had ever anticipated.
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Brenda Armstrong from Duke University Medical Center directs an SS EPI program in the Durham Public Schools that reaches out to disadvantaged and underrepresented minorities students.
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Our program is called Last L.A. S.T Leadership Academy for Students in Science and Technology. It’s a bridge program from seventh to ninth grade for students who are who have already demonstrated that they’re interested in science, math and technology. It’s part of a larger group of programs from fifth grade to 10th grade and fortunate at the generous support of Burroughs.
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Wellcome allowed us to complete that last component using last it’s year round. It pairs the students with graduate or medical school students in a year round proximity. There are students from the medical school in the graduate school who go into their classrooms. We started out with a few schools a number of years ago, but the interest in the program became so great that we extended it to the entire system.
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Through the entire program, we have almost 100 students. The last component is adds 25 students per year to the program.
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What have you been able to see about the success of the program and what what’s getting them excited about science, math and technology?
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I think, first of all, inherently science, math and technology really spawns their curiosity so that the way that we have woven their own native curiosity into science, math and technology is to turn it back on them and get them to understand that they know so much more about technology and math and physics already that they just haven’t had it identified to them.
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So the program allows them to see how smart they are. In turn, they then take that on as a boost in their self-esteem and their self-confidence. They’re willing to take academic chances. Once we get them hooked in the physics in seventh grade. Very few actually leave the program. And the first group of students that we started with in the fifth grade.
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Our graduate next June from high school and almost all of them are headed towards science or medicine or technology. They’re very bright. Their self-esteem is, you know, off the charts. They are leaders in their schools. It’s an incredible opportunity to create a group of people who are going to make a big difference.
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Christy Whitworth is education director at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute. Or Perry near Brevard, North Carolina. The 200 acre campus in the Pisgah Forest contains 30 buildings, housing, radio and optical telescopes and a variety of other scientific instrumentation. Perry hosts an STEP program called Space Science Lab.
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We have 30 students from western North Carolina primarily. They’re all high school age, actually. But we do accept those eighth graders moving into ninth grade. This gives us a full four years of students to choose from, but it also gives us a long term connection to those kids after their year with us is up. We still stay connected and we’ve seen some kids come back in different capacities as continuing learners or as Tas as they enter their undergraduate years.
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This is our second cycle. We previously completed a cycle with radio astronomy and students built and used their own radio telescopes during a school year. Now they’re doing an optical endeavor. We’re looking for lunar impacts and building a refractor, an optical telescope. And they build that. They build an assembly for their camera and marry all of that together to make an instrument that can be used to take data, process the data and submit it to us and others that are interested in that lunar data.
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So it’s it’s a real, truly hands on experience that you offer very.
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Very truly your hands on. The students do everything. We don’t even drill any holes for them. They they really get a lot out of the fact that they are allowed and asked to do these things. A lot of students feel empowered when you put a power tool or some other instrument in there in their hands to to work on a piece and make it usable for science, to make it usable for a job.
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And that’s the end result, is that they are able to get a job done and that they have a job throughout the school year to complete and share with us and with other scientists. When the light bulb goes on and I see a student be able to say, I can do this, I can I can solder something, I can drill a hole, I can make this instrument work, I can process this image.
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And then on top of that, I can share my data. I can communicate with scientist. This is this is where I see our future workforce really matriculating into something very, very possible. I see, you know, a very possible set of opportunities for that student rather than this is a student with a lot of potential. I want to see a student with a lot of possible because of what they know they think they can do.
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It’s very important for that student to know it, not me or anyone else for that student to know it. And then have an opportunity to try it and show it.
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RoboCup Junior is a year round, project oriented, team based academic enrichment program for middle and high school students in the Durham Public schools. In weekly after school meetings with undergraduate student mentors from Duke University. Teams of students build and program robots to perform a variety of challenges. Students exhibit their work in competitions and workshops. Brooke Osborn from the Duke University Department of Computer Science, is research manager for the program.
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We’ve been working with, I would say, 15 students that have been coming back pretty solidly for for the last few years. And among those students, obviously, they have some sort of intrinsic interest in computing or in science. Hearing kids go from, oh, yeah, I like science at school to saying, you know, I really enjoy this and I want to do internships with computer science and robotics or I want to study this in college.
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I have a couple of students who are taking computer programing only because of their experience with us. I certainly think that the situations where we’ve had a lot of success, it has just been building off of a passion that was already there and showing students that if you like computers and you like science, that’s sort of atypical from what you typically would associate with science.
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There are avenues that you can go. So I think that where we have had huge success, it’s been a result of that.
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The August 11th meeting was also an opportunity for the members of the SSEP Advisory Committee to meet and interact with the program directors such as those we’ve just heard from and to share their thoughts with Focus In Sound. Dr. Tom Houlihan is president and CEO of the Institute for Breakthrough Performance in Oxford, North Carolina, and is currently chair of the SSEP Advisory Committee.
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I asked him to elaborate about the purpose of the meeting.
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Dr. Tom Houlihan
We bring in the previous award recipients to do a couple of things. First, to give them some professional development about how to network with others, how to improve what they’re doing and that kind of approach. And then second, they present in the format of sharing with poster boards. And so forth what they’ve been doing and what their outcomes are today.
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Dr. Tom Houlihan
So it gives all the members of the advisory board a chance to see firsthand whether or not these awards are making a major difference.
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And so far, what has your conclusion been as to that question?
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Dr. Tom Houlihan
I think most of them are making great progress. Now, it’s sometimes there are some areas that need to be improved, and we got technical assistance to help them. But overall, we’re very pleased with the success rate and the amount of difference it makes. And the awards program really has been a major, major asset to North Carolina.
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So you see the bang further back in action?
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Dr. Tom Houlihan
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. And you can see that the number of applications increases as people take more of an interest. And I just it’s just a way of constantly supporting the improvement of science in our state.
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Advisory Committee member Brenda Wanaski is an education consultant and professional evaluator. I asked her about her overall impression of the activities and programs she had been hearing about at the meeting.
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I’m really impressed with the quality of the work that’s done here. I’m impressed that the fund is able to find year after year really and keep these projects going and then bring in new projects as these expire.
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Overall, what do you see as the importance, Brenda, of this program in the sphere of informal science education?
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As I see this, the informal world and the formal world have not just a need, they have an obligation to come together for the betterment of the students. The informal world has a great deal to bring in the realm of enthusiasm, to bring in the realm of student interest. I mean, you face that. We compete against in this camp.
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We compete against each camp. We have to be good to have people actually come to learn science when they could be swimming.
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Maddy Lazo Chatterton is director of Hispanic Latino Affairs in the Office of North Carolina State Senator Mark Barnes Knight. She is originally from Peru and as a member of the SSEP Advisory Committee, she has a particular interest in the diversity of the grants being awarded and the expansion of the program into North Carolina’s elementary schools.
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Maddy Lazo Chatterton
I’m amazingly impressed about the diversity that the grants are bringing and how now Burroughs Wellcome Fund is extending to elementary school students. That is a great idea to begin earlier than later in order that students are falling in love and interested in sciences. Young children are the best scientist. You know, if we talk about informal or casual science in how we have to break this stereotype, I have to how to empower those children since three, four, five years old that they are entering into kindergarten and elementary school in order to pursue the dreams, you know, And I hope, oh, we hope that more students are going to become good scientists.
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Maddy Lazo Chatterton
They have the support.
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The NAACP meeting also gave us an opportunity to check in with some of the people at the Burroughs Wellcome Fund itself to gather their thoughts about the past, present and future of EPI and the state of informal science education in North Carolina. We begin with senior program and communications officer Kerr Thompson, who spearheads the SSEP program. She says it’s grown substantially from its humble beginnings in 1996.
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It’s evolved over time in just isolated programs to a very strong, networked collaborative among all of these many scientists, science teachers, museum directors and the like who have actually partnered on activities to have universities reaching new school districts and just setting a good pace for these kids to have the best exposure that we can give them and helping them make some sort of decision about what they’d like to do and just showing them what science is.
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It’s not just, you know, some strange gown, a white coat in the lab.
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That seems to be is a key element to really put a human face on it, if you will.
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Absolutely. In fact, we try to get kids to understand that science is all around you as science is you. It’s in your community, it’s in your homes. It helps them to connect and identify what science really is. And, you know, if we just get them to be literate, productive citizens in our country, then, you know, fine, I think we’ve done justice.
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But if we reach those who really have a desire to question, to probe and to contribute to the scientific community, advance the work and the biology, the basic sciences, you know, then we really have done a good.
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Where it’s a catalyst. We have been over years to try to get more people. If you offer afterschool programs, why not offer a science after school program? If you need tools here, tools to help you do this, if you need to have access to other resources, we’re here to help to make some of those connections. And the Burroughs Wellcome Fund helped to create the North Carolina’s Science, Math and Technology Education Center so that there will be an entity out there thinking about our worrying about science math for years to come.
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Speaking of the North Carolina science, mathematics and Technology Education Center, we sat down with the center’s president, Dr. Sam Houston, at the SC meeting and explored his thoughts about the current state of STEM education and the SSEP program. He didn’t have to travel very far to attend this particular meeting.
00;21;35;11 – 00;22;08;04
Dr. Sam Houston
As you may know, the North Carolina Science, Math and technology Center is a an outreach program from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund. So not only am I enjoying our visitors, my offices are here, and informal science, which is what the science enrichment program is about. After school, out of school type science experiences for young people is a very important part of the education of every person, not just kids.
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Dr. Sam Houston
I had the good fortune of serving on the very first advisory committee for the Student Science Enrichment program back in 96, I believe. At that point in time, the program only provided grant opportunities for middle school and high school kids. Now it’s for K through 12. The partnerships have grown to involve community groups and associations. Boys and Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, universities in partnership with with school districts and in community groups.
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Dr. Sam Houston
I believe that the this effort has developed a a positive view of informal and out of school experiences for young people that they should impact thousands and thousands for years to come.
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Burroughs Wellcome Fund president Dr. John Burris also has quite a history with the SSEP. He served as the chair of the SSEP Advisory Committee from the program’s inception in 1996 through 2002. So he is certainly able to take the long view and assess the breadth and depth of the SSEP achievements. It’s wonderful to be able to come back.
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Dr. John Burris
It’s wonderful to be able to come back now. This eight or nine years since I stepped down and see how the programs continue to evolve. We’ve reached over 30,000 students in North Carolina. I think over the years we’ve supported some really quite innovative and superb programs that have reached kids at all age groups and from all economic and social groups. And so I think 80 plus percent of them have left the program that they’ve done the afterschool ASCAP program saying, I like science, and I’m more enthusiastic about science than I was when I started.
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Dr. John Burris
So that’s pretty positive. We talk a lot about science education as a root for training scientists, but in the end, we realize that at any point only a small percentage of people are going to become scientists. If every student that goes through one of the SSEP programs, if only 5% of them write me a letter in 25 years and say I’m a scientist, but the other 95% appreciate science and it’s an enabling perspective in their lives. We have been a success.
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The deadline for applications for the next round of SSEP funding is April 16th, 2012. So sharpen your pencils and get creative about new ways to engage students all over North Carolina and the wonders of science, mathematics, engineering and technology. We hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of the Focus In Sound podcast. Until next time. This is Ernie Hood.
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Thanks for listening.