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U.W. scientists will spend year in local classrooms

National Science Foundation grant focuses on teaching students about marine ecosystems

In the first year of an expected five-year program, U.W. Friday Harbor Labs has secured over half a million dollars to place research-oriented graduate students into San Juan County and Seattle classrooms.

The program, “GK-12: Ocean and Coastal Interdisciplinary Science,” is funded by a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant, and focuses on teaching high school students about marine ecosystems.

Toward that end, two graduate students, both on research tracks and specializing in marine ecology, will be placed in two classrooms, one on San Juan and the other on Orcas, to work closely with teachers Marc Vermeire, Nick Frazee from Friday Harbor High School, and Marta Branch at Orcas Island High School.

“They’re probably going to work in Environmental Science and Marine Science classes,” said Dr. Ken Sebens, director of U.W. Friday Harbor Labs.

Sebens, along with two other science professors at U.W., secured the initial year’s funding and anticipates the total amount for the program to exceed $2.8 million.

Graduate students will also be placed in several Seattle area high schools including Garfield High, West Seattle High, Ingraham High and Ballard High.

The graduate students will each receive a $30,000 fellowship to work 15 hours per week in the classroom for the entire academic year as well as conduct research on their own.

Sebens said that the point is for students to work closely with working scientists doing relevant local research and find that path alluring. They will not share teaching responsibilities, but will help the teacher to “develop new activities, new teaching modules, new field exercises, things like that,” Sebens said.

“There’s a lot of flexibility. They can do what the school needs. But they’re not an assistant to the teacher, they’re not a replacement for the teacher that can be used to teach another class.

“What NSF wants is to stimulate students to follow that path. They want researchers going into the classrooms talking about the excitement of doing research and about being in college and being in graduate school — being role models for the students. They wanted people who are really doing research. Most of these graduate students are in their second or third or fourth year. They’ve already done a lot of research that they can talk about.”

The grant includes funding for the graduate students to attend a week-long course in how to make collegiate research engaging to high school students and help prepare them for what to expect in public schools.

It also has funding for the teachers, Vermeire, Frazee and Branch, as well as the Seattle-area teachers, to attend workshops on what’s current in the marine ecosystem field.

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