The point of broader impacts is that you’re creating learning benefits and enriching the educational resources of the partner you’re working with. If they come in with that same perspective, good things are going to happen.” – Dr. Candace Galen
Dr. Candace Galen’s NSF funded GK-12 program (http://gk12.missouri.edu/showmenature/) started with what she described as a “napkin moment”. Galen and her friend Dr. Peter Stiepleman, who is now the superintendent for Columbia Public Schools, discussed a problem local schools were facing – the loss of Science Specialists. These specialists were shared between schools and focused on teaching science at the 4th and 5th grade level. Galen explained the importance of Science Specialists, “At the elementary level, classroom teachers are not usually required to have much science, or maybe one course, as an undergraduate.” With this need identified, Galen received a three-year grant to bring graduate students into local classrooms.
The GK-12 program found no shortage of enthusiasm. The program helped transform teachers into effective science educators. Galen said the goal was to “give teachers the confidence they would need, to know that mistakes were okay, and that science wasn’t something to be scared of.” The graduate students participants also benefited through science communication training. Galen explained, “We thought we could bring these two universes together and complement the abilities of classroom teachers, who are great communicators, and bring that together with someone who is passionate about their research.”
Together, Galen, the teachers, and graduate students provided local students with an authentic science learning experience. The classrooms wrote grant proposals to fund projects they were interested in exploring. The funding for these classroom proposals was provided through the NSF grant as well as matched funds from the University of Missouri, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and ABC Laboratories. These projects culminated in posters presented by students at a research symposium on the MU campus.
Evaluation and assessment was also incorporated into this broader impact program. Information was collected on how interested teachers were in continuing these activities as well as their confidence level in teaching science. Additionally, half of the teachers continued on with follow-up programs that included a month of research with graduate students and a poster presentation at the Ecological Society of America conference. Columbia Public Schools also recognized Galen with the 2014 CPS Science Hero Award
Galen’s broader impacts illustrate how researchers can identify needs in their local community. The broader impact activities created to address these needs can also serve as important training for different participants. As Galen described, “It’s not just about getting through a project, it’s about taking the time to bring someone else along and educate someone else, to give them an opportunity they would not have had.”