Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 9:30 AM


MCNEAL, Karen S., Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, RADENCIC, Sarah P., Geoscience, Mississippi State University, 172 Winterberry Lane, Starkville, MS 39759, PIERCE, Donna M., Department of Physics and Astronomy, Mississippi State University, 355 Lee Blvd, Mississippi State, MS 39762, HARE, Dwight, Leadership and Foundations, Mississippi State University, PO Box 5448, Mississippi State, MS 39762 and SCHMITZ, Darrel, Department of Geosciences, Mississippi State University, PO Box 5448, Mississippi State, MS 39762,

Scientists must be able to connect their work in fundamental ways to what people know, experience, and care about in order demonstrate why their research is important to reach the citizenry as effective communicators. The Initiating New Science Partnerships in Rural Education (INSPIRE) Graduate K-12 (GK-12) program offers graduate students opportunities to communicate their research to middle and high school science students through training in lesson plan development, effective pedagogy, and enhanced communication skills. Teacher and graduate student partnerships occurred year-round where they were trained through a two week summer workshop, three academic year workshops, and continuous interaction and feedback with the project coordinator and management. Evidence of graduate student conceptions about how their research connects to the formal classroom was measured through pre-post concept maps, bi-weekly journals, lesson plan evaluation, and classroom observations. Results show the strength of graduate student research connections improved over the three year period, due in part, to more explicit training and expectations over the course of the on-going project. Lesson plans and classroom observations show that graduate students often make purposeful connections of their research to the classroom, but often fall short in their implementation. Qualitative results indicate that as graduate students reflect on how their research fits to the classroom, at the most basic scale, they become more attuned to the fundamental questions and processes of their own research. Furthermore, our findings demonstrate that teachers can be critical catalysts in helping graduate students understand how their research applies to other contexts. Overall, our work indicates that partnerships between universities and K-12 education offer unique opportunity for graduate students to strengthen their communication and pedagogy skills, experience interactions with the public, and gain new perspectives on their own research. In an era of financial obstacles for STEM education, looming budget cuts, and large gaps in students majoring in these fields, modifying graduate education to include these experiences is a potential avenue of enhanced STEM communication, student understanding/interest, and public support.