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Plymouth Schools to share in $6.7M federal grant for science education

October 5, 2010

WEST LAFAYETTE — The nation is investing in science and Plymouth High School along with several other schools in the state will benefit from it.
Plymouth High School, Purdue University and three other school districts — Lafayette, Tippecanoe and Taylor Community — will share in a $6.7 million National Science Foundation grant to improve science learning in the third through the sixth grades. Partnering in the effort are Purdue's colleges of Education, Engineering, Science and Technology, the Discovery Learning Research Center, and regional industries.
“We’ve been partnering with Purdue’s schools in math, engineering and science to create lesson plans with a vision towards creating some of the top engineers in the U.S.,” said Plymouth Superintendent of Schools Dan Tyree. “It’s part of a ramping up of interest in science, math and technology teaching at schools like Plymouth.”
The work will focus on the use of engineering design-based teaching. The concept teaches problem solving in math and science through design projects.
During the five-year project, engineering, science, technology and education faculty will interact with 200 elementary and intermediate school teachers, 100 student teachers and 5,000 students. In the final year, the project will be expanded to additional school districts.
"The use of engineering design principles to affect how science and math are taught has been demonstrated for higher grad levels," said Keith Bowman, head of the Purdue School of Materials Engineering and the project leader. "But it is almost nonexistent in elementary classrooms. With the support of our school corporation partners, we seek to develop a program that will prepare teachers to impact students earlier in their academic development."
“We’re very excited about working with Purdue on this project,” said Tyree. “We’ve had the chance to collaborate with them in applying for the grant and we’re very interested in seeing what kind of an impact it’s going to make.”
Goals of the project are to improve science learning in grades 3-6 through implementation of engineering design, to prepare practicing and prospective teachers to use a design-based curriculum, adapt existing materials and tasks and develop new ones where necessary, and provide an understanding of how engineering design is used by teachers to teach science and students to learn science. 
 "Engineering design-based standards are being adopted across the nation. Within the next year, elementary school science teachers, including those in Indiana, will be required to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and practices needed to teach science through engineering design," said Brenda Capobianco, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction in the Purdue College of Education and project co-leader. "Our work will create Indiana's first engineering design-based model for science teacher professional development at both the preservice and inservice levels and an innovative, research-based program for using engineering design-based strategies."
 The funding comes through NSF’s Math and Science Partnership program, a research and development effort that supports innovative partnerships to improve K-12 student achievement in mathematics and science. 
The project comes on the heels of another project that Plymouth Schools have instituted called “Project Lead the Way” offering classes at junior high and high school levels designed around all types of engineering.
“The real bottom line is that we have to provide a work force that can promote economic development in Marshall County,” said Tyree. “We need to be competitive with surrounding areas in providing all our students with the kind of problem solving and technology skills that are called for in the modern work place.”

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