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EPA Grant

For the past two years, Dr. Brian Plankis and Dr. Pamela Martin have been working on elementary after school science clubs.  These science clubs are designed to increase science interest in younger students which could in turn have an effect on their college and career path choices.  

The clubs’ goals are to improve interest in the environment and sustainability.  Also, there is an emphasis on more hands-on science learning versus the traditional worksheet method.  Teaching in the context of the environment lends itself easily to this style.  The implementation of these after school science clubs has been successful thus far at three Indianapolis schools: Paramount, SENSE, and Joyce Kilmer Elementary.  The overarching goals are to make the clubs locally and culturally relevant as well as relatable to the children’s everyday lives. 

Paramount’s after school science club is called the “Green Team.”  One of the objectives in working with Paramount’s Green Team is to engage the students who participate in conversation.  Particular questions within these conversations are concerned with why are the students a part of the Green Team and what do they find interesting about this club?  Similar questions are being posed to the other two schools as well.  Answers have informed the researchers that many of the students have been pleasantly surprised by the activities and are discovering science is everywhere in their everyday surroundings. 

Recently, the EPA has decided to supply a grant to help fund these after school science clubs.  Dr. Plankis describes that “the EPA grant will help to take their efforts up a notch.”  One of the ways this will happen is by providing teachers with professional development training during the summer (two teachers from each school).  The professional development training promotes the teachers to become faculty leads at their respective schools in regards to science teaching.  These efforts will also be continued through the school year in the form of mentoring the teachers and helping them to choose particular science projects for educating the children.  The teachers will also be assisted with implementation of projects and logistical issues as they occur. 

The grant will also help to fund a longitudinal study on if these students who participate in the after school science clubs end up choosing a more science based career.  A mixed methods approach will be utilized when analyzing the research questions and conversations being held with the students who both participate in the after school clubs and those who do not.  Surveys are utilized for quantitative data and small group interviews are employed for qualitative data. 

Pre and post surveys are used to help understand if children feel more secure in their science skills and interested in science careers.  Staff interviews are also conducted to determine if clubs are having impact on students.  Multiple indicators will be assessed via triangulation of data (e.g. student, staff, and community coordinator feedback). 

Projects such as school gardens and wildlife habitats are only a couple of examples showing what these after school science clubs have done for both the schools and their community.  The EPA grant will help provide more funding for projects of this nature as well as seed money for larger ventures, such as solar panel installation.  These particular projects’ approaches are known as community based environmental education (CBEE). 

What these CBEE methods dare to do within the community through the school is take on projects that require all aspects of STEM in order to improve the environment.  Dr. Plankis states “that this overall project is showing the teachers, principal, and students that this isn’t just about research – but to help the school and community to improve their understanding of sustainability and resiliency."

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