Preliminary data from an evaluation of Columbia's Summer Research Program for Secondary School Science Teachers show the program is successfully reaching high school and middle school students by educating New York area teachers. Students taught by teachers who take part in the program are more interested and proficient in science, as indicated by their participation in science competitions and after-school science programs and their success on the New York State Regents exams in science.
The program in June received a new, four-year $400,000 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which has supported it since its founding by Dr. Samuel C. Silverstein, John C. Dalton Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at P&S, in 1990. His interactions with high school science teachers in the early 80s convinced him they had insufficient experience with the practice of science to make it come alive in their classrooms.
The program, which lasts for two consecutive summers, each year selects a new cohort of 10 to 15 New York and New Jersey secondary school science teachers who come to Columbia labs four days a week to learn how to conduct biological and physical science research. A Columbia faculty member acts as a mentor for each teacher. Every Monday, the full group of 25 teachers gathers with Jay Dubner, program coordinator, to focus on professional development, hear lectures by Columbia faculty, receive teaching instruction, and learn about Internet resources. Each teacher receives a $6,000 stipend per summer, a modem or network card to connect a school computer to the Internet, a subscription to America Online, $1,000 to buy classroom materials and equipment, and the chance to attend a professional conference during the academic year.
To evaluate the effect of the program on students of participating teachers, Dr. Silverstein, Mr. Dubner, and colleagues are working with the New York City Department of Education and the assistant principals for science at the high schools where the program participants teach. They have collected data on the more than 30,000 students who have been in the classes of participating teachers since 1993 and on approximately 600,000 students in the science classes of non-participating teachers in the same schools and science departments.
The researchers found a three-fold increase in the number of students of participating teachers who undertake a competitive science project. The number of students participating in after-school science programs has grown from about 10 percent to about 13 percent in the classes of participating teachers, while the average in classes of non-participating teachers remained about the same at 3.5 percent. They also found a significant increase in the number of students of participating teachers who passed the science Regents exams. The researchers plan to submit their findings for publication.
"Our studies convince us that hands-on science experiences for science teachers are as essential to their training and professional development as educators as hospital residencies are to the training and professional development of physicians," says Dr. Silverstein.
The program also helps generate interest in science among minority students and teachers. More than three-quarters of the teachers in the program this year teach at schools where the student body is almost entirely African-American and/or Hispanic minority groups that are underrepresented in science. Almost half of the teachers in the program are from underrepresented minority groups themselves. "Although the program is not designed to specifically assist minority students and teachers," Mr. Dubner says, "it certainly does have that effect."
Funders of the program are: Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Laura B. Vogel Foundation, Lucent Technologies Foundation, National Science Foundation, New York Times Company Foundation, Pfizer Foundation, and the Waksman Foundation for Microbiology.