Science education boosted by grant

$750,000 aims to get K-12 students more interested in science.
Thursday, July 5, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:37 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A recent $750,000 grant to the MU School of Medicine will bring state-of-the-art technology to Columbia and St. Louis public schools. Given by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the money is part of a national effort to connect medical institutions to their surrounding communities and get elementary and secondary students more interested in science.

The money will go toward geographic information systems, which map the movement of cells. The devices, in addition to related curriculum, will be used to help students in Columbia understand biological concepts.

William Folk, biochemistry professor and senior associate dean for research at MU, compared the systems to the already popular global positioning system found in some cars.

“What we’re attempting to do is help young people understand those same types of instructions that occur when cells must move from one place in a developing human or plant to another place,” Folk said.

Folk said it will take about three years to get the first developments in the classroom.

Sara Torres, who coordinates science and health education in the Columbia district, said the prospect of having such a new resource for teachers is exciting.

“I think this will be a unique way of teaching students,” Torres said, “and I think it’s also going to be challenging teachers, because the students understand technology better than teachers and they’re not afraid of it.”

Plans include spreading geographic information systems education beyond Columbia.

“The intent is to develop learning materials that can be widely disseminated,” Folk said. “Teachers are partners in this effort as we develop these materials to fit their needs and their students’ needs.”

Folk said there is a bigger picture to consider. “There is a clear understanding,” he said, “that a country’s economic growth is dependent on growth of science, engineering and math.”

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