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September 11, 2007


NEW YORK, September 11, 2007 – Early exposure to scientific concepts such as matter and energy has long-term beneficial effects on students’ ability to excel in science later in their academic careers, researchers have found.  But many American elementary school children, especially in poorer districts, receive little, if any, instruction in science, especially physical science.

A team headed by two professors at The City College of New York (CCNY) is working to change that.  They have been awarded $2.4 million over five years from the National Science Foundation’s Discovery Research K - 12 program to conduct simultaneous research, curriculum development and professional development to come up with new methodologies based on design/technology for teaching physical science in urban and other disadvantaged settings.

“Design provides a rich context for learning science, but it is rarely done in American schools, especially in the elementary grades,” said Gary Benenson, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at CCNY and principal investigator for the project.  Technology education incorporate the kinds of analytical and critical thinking skills that are essential to preparing children for the kinds of careers that are dependent upon math and the sciences, such as engineering, architecture and industrial design, he added.

The program, which is entitled “Physical Science Comes Alive: Exploring Things That Go,” intends to produce four curriculum units on Force & Motion and Energy Transformation for the K-2 and 3-5 grade bands.  Each unit will focus on the design and testing of kinetic toys or the development of strategies for playing games that invoke principles of mechanics and electricity to achieve successful outcomes.

The curriculum development process will be guided by a significant research component conducted by Dr. Richard Lehrer, an expert on cognitive research related to data analysis and modeling at Vanderbilt University.  Dr. Lehrer and his colleagues will investigate children’s strategies for meeting design challenges, their engagement levels and forms or participation and their learning of scientific concepts.

In addition, the project will include the creation and documentation of a 40-hour in-service teacher workshop for each of the four units.  James Neujahr, Professor of Science Education at CCNY and co-principal investigator has responsibility for the pedagogy and design of the professional development component.

“People who do curriculum development realize it can’t be done in isolation; professional development needs to be done hand-in-hand,” Professor Benenson said. “At the same time, we need organized research to develop firm conclusions about what kids learn and how.”

Preliminary research and development work will be done at two inner city schools in Nashville, Tenn.  In addition, six teachers from inner city schools in New York will be invited to assist in curriculum and professional development design.  Later on, field tests will be conducted at inner city schools in Los Angeles, Washington and Las Vegas.

Professor Benenson said the project focuses on urban districts because they are among the places where students are least likely to receive science instruction in elementary schools.  He also noted that because the instructional projects will use materials that should be readily available and little or no cost, less affluent districts should be able to afford to implement them.

The Discovery Research K-12 program funds research, development, and evaluation activities through knowledge generation and application to improve K-12 learning and teaching.  With $42 million budgeted for Fiscal Year 2007, it expected to fund 42 projects nationwide, for which it has received 293 formal proposals.

About The City College of New York

For 160 years, The City College of New York has provided low-cost, high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines.  Over 14,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the School of Architecture, the School of Education, the Grove School of Engineering and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education.