Curious -- Creal Springs School students (from left) Jerica Wilkins, Halle White, Dakota Fletcher, and Sheyanne Stacy, examine samples during a science activity organized by Juliette Donatelli, a graduate student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where she is a fellow in a science outreach project known as Heart GK-12. (Photos provided) Download Photo Here
January 28, 2011
Partnership promotes science in area schools
CARBONDALE, Ill -- A graduate student at Southern Illinois University Carbondale is helping lead a group of grade school students in exploring the wonders of science.
Juliette Donatelli, a graduate student in plant biology, is a fellow in SIUC’s Heart GK-12 program, a science outreach program at the University funded by the National Science Foundation. Donatelli is working with students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades at Creal Springs School, visiting the school once per week and helping break down barriers between science and the classroom. Creal Springs School, a pre-K-eighth grade facility, is one of eight Southern Illinois schools working with the University on the project.
The “heart” in Heart GK-12 stands for Heartland Ecological/Environmental Academic Research Training. The fellowship program primarily targets underrepresented minorities in science.
Reporters, photographers and news crews are welcome to cover the Creal Springs class scientific research trip to the Cache wetlands in February. The trip is set for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 3, at the Henry Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center. The group will venture into the wetlands from there. For more information, contact Juliette Donatelli at 845/598-2800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIUC graduate students, under the direction of faculty advisers, work with area teachers and students to explore a wide and rich variety of scientific experiences in ecological habitats. The program helps close the gap between the University and local schools by involving graduate students directly in ecological and environmental science curriculums, as well as by mentoring high school teachers in the scientific research process.
The program is aimed at increasing scientific literacy, assisting teachers by providing them the opportunity for scientific research, and enhancing the partnership between SIUC and area schools.
Donatelli began working with the Creal Springs students in August 2009, partnering with their teacher, Fran Wachter. Donatelli plays the part of “resident scientist,” teaching fun, hands-on lessons in science and ecology.
“We’ve done all sorts of projects,” Donatelli said. “We’ve talked about sustainable energy projects and technologies and reducing carbon footprints and we’ve worked in plant biology and vermicomposting,” which is the practice of using worms to break down garbage into fertilizer.
“I see my job as making science fun and attainable,” she said. “It’s not so much about the white coat, but about reaching out and showing them how to connect with science.”
Wachter said having a “real scientist” in the classroom has been a tremendous opportunity for her and the students.
“In our classroom this has been an excellent resource for innovative science activities and laboratories,” Wachter said. “The students appreciate (Donatelli’s) role as mentorand look forward to her weekly sessions.Her environmental ecology message is well received and she has had a positive impact on my students' attitudes about conservation and science literacy.”
Another part of Donatelli’s work with the Creal Springs students includes an ongoing project with the Cache River wetlands. For more than a year, the students have visited the area, clearing brush from trails and planting native species that have been hurt by environmental factors.
The class is planning a trip there next month, during which its members will deliver books they have created to the Henry Barkhausen Cache River Wetlands Center for use by future visitors.
Harvey Henson, a research project specialist in the Department of Geology who helps administer the program, said the College of Science graduate students are the backbone of the program, which seeks to improve schoolteachers’ science instruction knowledge and help them learn to conduct scientific research.
“We want to enhance the long-term partnerships between the University and local schools,” Henson said. “In consultation with SIUC faculty mentors, the fellow-teacher teams design an original research project, participate in workshops designed to familiarize them with science standards, and provide training in research-based pedagogy. These teams plan exercises, develop action plans, and design action research that together integrate and refine inquiry-based teaching in the classroom.”
Students at the schools get the benefits of direct involvement in ecological and environmental science. SIUC graduate students also bring the students to the campus in spring for a unique student symposium that showcases their original research. The students also learn more about SIUC and what the University has to offer while they’re here.
“Ultimately, this program provides an opportunity for graduate students to impact the lives of high school teachers and students in Southern Illinois and beyond while learning more about the GK-12 educational experience and current challenges,” Henson said. “The NSF funding provides each fellow with a monthly stipend and assistance with educational expenses.”
The program is affiliated with the SIUC Center for Ecology and utilizes natural environments such as the SIUC Touch of Nature Environmental Center for research.
The eight schools involved in the project are Anna Junior High School, Jefferson Elementary School in Marion, Creal Springs School, Carterville High School, Herrin High School, Unity Point School in Carbondale, Murphysboro High School, and General John A. Logan Attendance Center in Murphysboro.