Lynch School of Education Professor G. Michael Barnett worked with area high school students Eduardo Aquino, Keili Ramon, Caroline Roman, and Kayson Cardoso this past summer as part of his Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program. (Lee Pellegrini)

Just six months ago, the National Science Foundation awarded Lynch School of Education Professor G. Michael Barnett a three-year, $1.2-million grant to engage low-income high school students in a science and an emerging agricultural technology project, designed to guide them in conducting scientific research and prepare them for post-secondary scientific study.

Like a flourishing garden, the “Seeding the Future with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) Researchers Through Emerging Agricultural Technologies” program recently received a second NSF grant of $1.52 million over three years to support environmental science teachers as they guide their students through authentic science inquiry. The program launched on Sept. 1.

“Planning and performing scientific research is challenging for students and teachers alike, given its complexity and iterative nature, but learning and executing proper procedures are absolutely critical for students to fulfill the Next Generation Science Standards,” said Barnett, who explained that NGSS are research-based, K-12 science content principles developed by states to improve science education, stimulate students’ interest in science, and prepare them for college and careers.

“Our goal was to design a program where teachers and their students not only learn how to perform scientific investigations, but also understand the important role that technologies and computation play in supporting it.”

Unlike the initially NSF-funded Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program, the new award focuses on supporting teachers in their classrooms. Teachers from Boston Public Schools and partner districts who instruct low-income students of color will be recruited to work with a hydrogel, a transparent soil that allows examination of plant roots and how their structures are affected by differing environmental conditions. Teachers will help their students to design increasingly more complex scientific investigations, utilizing state-of-the technology employed in university research labs. They also will use computational science practices to help students learn to code their systems to automate data collection, and better control variables, while simultaneously building the educators’ knowledge, confidence, and skills in using technology to support their students’ research.

In addition to Barnett, who is the principal investigator, the BC faculty leadership includes LSOE Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology Department Professor David Blustein and Senior Research Associate Helen Zhang, a visiting research faculty member in the Lynch School and Biology Department. Assistant Professor Ludovico Cademartiri, who has led the development of hydrogel-based transparent soil for plant growth, and Ben Shapiro, assistant professor and director of the Laboratory for Playful Computation at the University of Colorado-Boulder, round out the team.

“We are very grateful to the NSF for its ongoing, generous support of this project, which will build the confidence and capacity of our partner teachers and the youth participants—most of whom are underrepresented in science—to become excited about pursuing a career in computer science or a related STEM field,” said Barnett.

A previous BC News article covered the NSF grant awarded to the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers program. Read more from Boston College Magazine.

—Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | October 2018