First the dream team was assembled; then the project was funded.

That analysis may be simplistic, but it does summarize how an interdisciplinary partnership of scientists and educators from WSU’s Vancouver campus and the surrounding public school system recently received a $2.7 million, five-year grant.

They will create a program for graduate teaching fellows in K-12 education (GK-12) in southwestern Washington, said project director Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens.

The program links graduate students in environmental science with middle school science teachers for their mutual benefit.
 
The student fellows earn a stipend and learn new teaching and communication skills. The K-12 teachers gain from direct exposure to new scientific research and discoveries.
 
Their students learn science more effectively, through hands-on experimentation within the project theme of assessing environmental change in the Columbia River watershed.

Partnership the key

The GK-12 program (http://gk12.org) was established in 1999 by the National Science Foundation. More than 200 projects have been funded nationwide. This is the first at WSU Vancouver.
 
(Project director Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, above center, with team members. Above right, WSU Pullman team member Denny Davis)
 
 
A project at the Pullman campus is directed by Denny Davis, professor in the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.
“Partnership is the key to success with a GK-12 project,” Rollwagen-Bollens said. “We assembled a six-person team of principal investigators that included both faculty and K-12 representatives.
 
The project was approved in 2007 and we will begin this fall.”
 
Rollwagen-Bollens, WSU Vancouver interim director of research and graduate education, is the principal investigator and project director. The five co-principal investigators include Stephen Bollens, professor and interim director of the WSU-wide School of Earth & Environmental Sciences (SEES); Anne Kennedy, director of the Science and Math Education Resource Center of the regional educational service district; Bonnie Lock, curriculum director at the La Center school district; Brian Tissot, associate professor in SEES; and Tamara Holmlund Nelson, associate professor of science education.

Scientists and teachers

“I wrote my dissertation on GK-12 partnership projects and have seen how exciting these partnerships can be for the teachers, graduate student fellows and students involved,” Nelson said.

“The mix of skills and perspectives on the GK-12 team is vital to the success of the partnerships,” she said. “It is essential for the project PI’s to support the teacher-fellow partnerships from both the perspective of a scientist and a teacher. We put together a very representative team, and I think that will help this program to be very successful.”

Rollwagen-Bollens echoed that enthusiasm.

“This award recognizes the strength of our graduate program and will provide a valuable experience for our graduate students,” she said. This is an incredibly powerful model to improve the way students are educated about science.”