CSATS connects researchers with K-12 schools

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Twelve years ago, the Center for Science and the Schools (CSATS) was established in the College of Education. A University-wide center, CSATS assists Penn State researchers with their grant endeavors and connects them with K-12 schools to promote research-based professional development opportunities for teachers.

CSATS works closely with faculty researchers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields to provide guidance to meet the broader impacts (BI) requirements of grant-funding agencies.

“National Science Foundation (NSF) research funding has become increasingly competitive, with a funding rate of around 10 percent,’’ said Annmarie Ward, director of CSATS and assistant professor of science education. “This requires researchers to spend more time writing proposals to fund their research. The broader impacts component of the proposal can be challenging to design.’’

CSATS fits into the picture by assisting faculty in developing entire education outreach plans or focusing on specific programs. The broader impacts section of proposals holds high relevance for teacher professional development programs; educating teachers can have far-reaching impacts because of the large number of students taught.  

CSATS has a strong background of working on grant proposals with agencies such as NASA, NSF, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, according to Leah Bug, assistant director of CSATS. “We work on single-researcher as well as large multi-institutional grants,’’ she said.

“When NSF reviewers see a researcher collaborating with an educational unit, it lends more credibility to the proposal. If there’s a decision between two excellent science proposals, the broader impact section can be the deciding factor,’’ Bug said.

CSATS also uses its relationships with University researchers to develop and foster teacher-researcher partnerships that strengthen science and engineering education at all levels, specifically in K-12 schools. The goal is to partner with Penn State researchers to design and implement teacher professional development utilizing research-based best practices.

One example of this partnership is the highly successful CSATS Saturday Science Workshops, a program for K-8 teachers. CSATS collaborates with experienced and novice researchers to design and implement about six workshops each year. These workshops expose teachers to aspects of cutting-edge science and engineering research through inquiry-based activities that can be easily adapted for use in the K-8 classroom. 

“We share with researchers various teaching and learning strategies which work well in teacher professional development programs,’’ Ward said. “This partnership allows the research faculty to broaden their teaching repertoire and see how an inquiry-based teaching approach is quite effective.’’

The partnership also meshes the present and the future. “We see K-12 students as our future scientists and engineers,’’ Ward said. “Their STEM education, how they learn it, the kinds of activities they do, and how their teachers are prepared is very important to building the future workforce of America.

“The STEM colleges are understanding the importance of this partnership. I think the knowledge of how people learn and best practices in teaching and learning which CSATS brings to the partnerships are benefiting researchers in the STEM colleges,” Ward said. 

For more information about CSATS, contact Annmarie Ward at 814-863-5240 or visit http://www.csats.psu.edu/.

Last Updated April 13, 2016