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Supporting Middle School Science: MU Team Receives $1.25 Million NIH Grant to Help Teachers

MU educators are seeking statewide middle school teachers to enhance science and literacy throughout Missouri over 5 years.

October 9th, 2017

Story Contact: Cailin Riley, rileyci@umsystem.edu

COLUMBIA, Mo. – Many middle school students throughout Missouri and the nation can be at a disadvantage when it comes to learning science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) principles. These require building strong literacy skills, understanding key concepts, and learning how to read and write about them. For diverse learners such as those with disabilities and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, understanding these principles can be especially challenging. To address this situation, the University of Missouri has received a $1.25 million Science Education Partnership Award from the National Institutes of Health to strengthen STEM literacy materials and skills, provide professional development for teachers, and assess the materials’ value for instruction.

“We recognize that we must engage all our learners in inquiry-based opportunities,” said Delinda van Garderen, professor and director of graduate studies in MU’s Department of Special Education. “We want to enhance these inquiry-based experiences with multimodal texts, such as reading guides paired with question sets, to help pull out critical ideas and also develop the students’ literacy skills.”

Van Garderen, along with William Folk, professor of biochemistry in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and the School of Medicine, are leading the program. The team, which includes other educators and researchers from MU and institutions in Ohio and Nevada, will work with teachers to develop multimodal texts connected to inquiry-based activities reflecting current Missouri and national standards, and help identify instructional practices that can support all learners in their classrooms. The grant will be disbursed over a 5-year period, with the first teacher professional development workshops being held in summer 2018. The program has the potential to benefit thousands of Missouri students and to be extended nationally.

Folk says this program is designed to improve diverse learners’ interest and capabilities in STEM fields, and will be a major step toward motivating students with different backgrounds to pursue science throughout their educational career.

“It is widely recognized that children are excited about discovering the world around them early in their development, but they often become dissuaded from that by barriers and challenges in reading and writing,” Folk said. “This ‘STEM pipeline’ has many leaks, so many students are not adequately prepared to address challenges in life. We believe that this program provides a great opportunity to make Mizzou and Missouri national leaders in STEM education.”

Van Garderen, Folk and team are seeking to enlist middle school science, English and special education teachers who are interested in this program. Interested educators can call van Garderen at: (573) 884-7075 or email vangarderend@missouri.edu for more information.

The grant, “Strengthening Middle School Science and Health Education for Diverse Learners by Linking Grade-Level Reading of Complex Texts and Inquiry,” (NIH Grant # 1R25OD023780-01) began Sept. 1, 2017.

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