This award provides funding for a 3 year continuing award to support a Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) Site program at Clemson University entitled, RET Site: Engineering Fibers and Films Experience (EFF-X), under the direction of Dr. Lisa C. Benson. The Center for Advanced Engineering Fibers and Films (CAEFF), an NSF Engineering Research Center with core partners Clemson University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Clark Atlanta University, will be the site for this multidisciplinary RET program for secondary science and mathematics teachers. EFF-X will draw on expertise located in the CAEFF in engineering, materials science, mathematics, textiles, and chemistry to provide a comprehensive experience in polymer fiber and film research for up to ten teachers per year from high schools in both urban and rural school districts with high populations of minority students in South Carolina and metro Atlanta. The teachers will become familiar with the research process, learn about polymer science and technology, and be engaged in the transfer of knowledge from the laboratory to the classroom.
Co-funding for this project is being provided by the NSF EPSCoR Program and the NSF Engineering Research Centers (ERC) Program.
Research Experience for Teachers program was a joint effort at Clemson University and Clark Atlanta University to provide teachers with authentic scientific inquiry experiences, to develop inquiry-based teaching modules for middle and high school math and science classrooms, and to investigate the effectiveness of these activities on teachersâ€™ practices and student performance and motivation. A total of 29 teachers, primarily in-service (1 pre-service), participated in the EFF-X program from 2007 – 2010. Mentors interacted with these participants on a daily basis: two undergraduates, 22 graduate students, and 5 post-docs. Twenty one faculty advisors provided direction for the research and advised participants as they prepared poster presentations about their work. One doctoral student conducted assessments in the teachersâ€™ classrooms, and has presented her work at conferences and in education journals. Two teachers (Hutchison and Wimpey) and the education doctoral student (Wade) attended the annual NSF Education Grantees Conference to present their research posters, and to attend sessions about the outcomes of the NSF RET program. Three teachers (Wimpey, Shipley and Hardin) conducted education research on the outcomes of the EFF-X program. Two have presented their work at NARST in 2010 and 2011, and all three are preparing manuscripts for publication in peer-reviewed education journals about their findings. Our research team has published or presented the following findings: Teachers developed as scientists through their six-week internship experience, overcoming the challenge of working with an open-ended problem and work environment, becoming more independent in their thinking and practice, understanding first-hand the level of dedication and perseverance needed to succeed in science and engineering, and forming communities of practice in which they became familiar with resources available to help inform themselves and their students about science and engineering. Teachers improved their understanding of research and inquiry-based instruction, gaining confidence in their knowledge of scientific inquiry and engineering practice. This enabled them to better teach using inquiry in the classroom, and to introduce their students to engineering. Fifteen of the participants created inquiry-based teaching modules to introduce engineering and scientific research in middle and high school math and science classrooms. These can be found on the program website: www.clemson.edu/ese/k12. As a result of changes in teachersâ€™ practice in the classroom, specifically implementing inquiry-based instruction, student motivation and academic performance improved. Increases in studentsâ€™ value of their STEM coursework after RET-based instructional material was implemented in classrooms, particularly with respect to (1) how much students enjoyed engaging in their STEM coursework; (2) studentsâ€™ belief in their ability to be successful in their current STEM course; and (3) studentsâ€™ belief that success in their STEM course will lead to future success in a STEM field.