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Bringing out the scientist in students


It's tough to get high school students excited about science. But that's exactly what a group of UC San Diego graduate students are doing, thanks to a new initiative here on campus, called the SOCRATES Fellows Program.

It's designed to bring scientific research to high school classrooms and to help graduate students become better teachers.

UC San Diego Professor Maarten Chrispeels heads the program, which just received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

"What's exciting about this grant is that we hope that it will help us address a major national problem, which is that there are not enough science students in the science pipeline."

This school year, UCSD grad students working on their PhD are pairing up with high school teachers to bring more science into the classroom. For 10 hours a week, they will work with students on experiments and activities that are directly related to their graduate research.

"It's also going to help me develop more exciting curriculum for my students and most importantly, I think, bring a grad student into my classroom once a week and really give students sort of the face of science and make them feel like it's something that they can do."

Besides sharing their passion for science, the graduate students will also gain hands-on teaching experience themselves.

"I want to be a college professor someday and there really is no teaching experience for college professors."
"I wanted to work with teachers, get some insights from them as far as how they approach instruction and also having some experience with students and have some experience developing those interactions."

By being in the classroom, graduate students can also break down some common stereotypes about scientists.
"They're not all white-haired European professors but there are women, there are minorities, there are all kinds of people who do science and who can bring their own ideas to the classroom and that way young people will get excited about science."

This summer, the graduate students got a chance to test-drive and refine the activities they developed. They worked with high school students who were taking part in an outreach program on campus.

Natural sounds of students in lab
And judging by the reaction of these high schoolers, the program is already a success...

"it's pretty interesting. I didn't think it would be this interesting." "it's opening my eyes to areas of science I didn't really have an interest in before."

"It's different than being in a classroom and learning this procedure. It's nice and all but when you're in an actual lab you get the feeling that this has real-life applications" (...)"it's really important and you start opening your mind to this idea that maybe I too can do this when I get older. It's really Important. It's helping kids."

"It's going really well. The students seem to be interested in what we put together for them. A lot of things have come together in the past couple of weeks that have made this a really rich experience for the students. They seem engaged."

For more information: http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/thisweek/2008/09/29_socrates.asp