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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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New Mexico State receives $1.2 million to partner scientists with teachers

With a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, New Mexico State University and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park will work with area middle schools to encourage inquiry-based learning.

gram will partner graduate students in biology, chemistry, biochemistry and geology with middle school teachers in the Las Cruces, Hatch and Gadsden public schools.

"This program is a clever move by NSF," said Nancy McMillan, a geological sciences professor and principal investigator for the grant. "You raise a generation of scientists with experience working with children."

Inquiry-based learning differs from traditional methods in that students participate in activities, seek information and ask questions, rather that receiving traditional lectures.

The university's collaboration is one of only 20 awards totaling $10 million that NSF will give this year, McMillan said.

The NSF project, "GK-12: Middle School Student Investigators in Environmental Science," will partner 11 graduate fellows with one middle school teacher at each middle school in the three school districts. Each school and the Nature Park, a non-profit organization that provides environmental science experiences for teachers and students, will receive weather software that will allow them to access data from more than 6,000 locations nationwide.

The fellows will teach inquiry-based learning modules in the middle school classrooms. McMillan said they will teach modules previously developed by the Nature Park in the beginning, but will then develop new learning modules that fit the teachers' needs. The new modules will be based on the New Mexico and national science education standards and integrate weather data, geology, biology and chemistry. Some modules will be in the form of field trips to areas that display southern New Mexico's biologic and geologic diversity.

"Middle school is the time where students, especially girls, lose interest in math and science," McMillan said. "We wanted to maximize the effectiveness of this NSF program by targeting these inquisitive students."

McMillan said inquiry-based learning allows the students to start a project and learn as they go. "They learn more if they are asking the questions," she said.

The three-year project will start in the fall 2003.

For middle school students, the goal is to increase interest in pursing science, technology, engineering and mathematics studies and careers. For middle school teachers, the hope is that the project will deepen their science knowledge and increase their enthusiasm about inquiry-based learning.

She said they expect the fellows to benefit by increasing their communication skills, especially with non-scientists, as well as their knowledge of teaching methods and appreciation for interdisciplinary research.

For more information about the project, call McMillan at (505) 646-5000.