New grant will go towards strengthening STEM skills in middle schools

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COLUMBIA – Two professors from the University of Missouri have received a $1.25 million Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Delinda van Garderen, professor and director of graduate studies in MU’s Department of Special Education, and William Folk, professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the School of Medicine, are using the money for a new program.  

The program is going to help strengthen science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills in middle school classrooms, while providing professional development for professors.

“What this will do is help strengthen our students to be able to understand ideas related to science and to read the literature, to comprehend the literature, and to synthesize it, all those skills that are really vital and really critical for higher education and for moving forward in the field into some sort of career,” said van Garderen.

Folk says the program focuses on middle school students because many of them are at a disadvantage when it comes to learning these skills.

“Middle school is about the age where children begin to read to learn, rather than learning to read, and it’s very important when they begin to read to learn science,” said Folk.  

“Many children are struggling to read in middle schools. Knowing that, we shaped this program to really focus on strengthening the the literacy and conjunction with the science inquiries and that’s really where we think this can be important,” he said.

Van Garderen said the program will specifically help students with learning disabilities or those who’s second language in English.     

Other MU professors and researchers are working with van Garderen and Folk as well, including professors from institutions in Ohio and Nevada.

According to a press release, the group will be working with teachers “to develop multimodal texts connected to inquiry-based activities reflecting current Missouri and national standards, and help identify instructional practices that can support all learners in their classrooms.”

Van Garderen and Folk are looking for middle school science, English and special education teachers who are interested in the program. 

“We’re helping the teachers integrate these ideas about literacy and science in a meaningful way. And also, we’re trying to capture their interest, we want the kids to be interested, we want them to be engaged, ask more questions, and want to find out more about science,” said van Garderen.

The grant will be disbursed over the next five years. The first teacher professional development workshops will take place in summer 2018.