CarbonEARTH program facilitates science education, teaching

University Park, Pa. -- Faculty in Penn State's Eberly College of Science and the Center for Science and the Schools (CSATS) in the College of Education have launched a new program to develop graduate expertise in science communication by incorporating science and technology research into local elementary and junior high school classrooms.

The CarbonEARTH (Carbon Educators and Researchers Together for Humanity) program teams Penn State graduate students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines with science and technology teachers in Pennsylvania’s Harrisburg and Philipsburg-Osceola school districts. Supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) GK-12 grant -- funded by the Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education program -- the CarbonEARTH program hones graduate student skills in science communication, strengthens K-12 student understanding of science and broadens teacher application of science content.

NSF's Division of Graduate Education manages the program called the Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 education, which is known as GK-12.

The CarbonEARTH program uses the interdisciplinary theme of carbon, broadly construed, as a unifying platform for student investigation, discovery, training and education.

Renee Diehl, professor of physics in the Eberly College of Science, is the lead principal investigator for the five-year NSF-supported program. “Our 11 CarbonEARTH fellows are pursuing Ph.D. degrees in a wide range of carbon-related research, from astrophysics to agriculture and from fossils to alternative fuels,” said Diehl. “CarbonEARTH provides them the opportunity to enhance their skills for communicating science to a broad audience.”

"The graduate fellows work with partner teachers to develop inquiry-based activities, culminating in an open-ended project that will foster greater understanding of scientific research among students and teachers,” said Annmarie Ward, CSATS director and assistant professor of science education in the College of Education and one of the co-principal investigators for the project. Ward also serves as the lead school liaison for CarbonEARTH, and provides instruction on K-12 teaching and ongoing support for graduate fellows as they work with teachers in the classroom.

Six Penn State colleges -- the College of Education, the Eberly College of Science, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, the College of Agricultural Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the College of Health and Human Development -- are participating in CarbonEARTH. Other co-principal investigators involved in the CarbonEARTH project include Elizabeth Boyer, associate professor of water resources; Angela Lueking, associate professor of energy and mineral engineering and chemical engineering; and Erica Smithwick, assistant professor of geography.

A key facet of the CarbonEARTH program is the multi-level cross-mentoring that takes place between fellows, their research advisers, selected teachers and students. While the program is mainly focused on the enhanced training of graduate students, everyone involved in the program benefits.

“This program affords tremendous opportunities for graduate fellows, teachers, and grade-school students alike,” said Seth Wilberding, a doctoral candidate in geography and CarbonEARTH graduate fellow. “Bringing graduate-level research into junior-high classrooms has been and continues to be an invaluable experience.”

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Last Updated March 21, 2011