Grant will help train public school teachers

Seeking to help expose K-12 teachers and students to the inner workings of college-level engineering research that deals with math and science, the National Science Foundation has awarded a grant to USF’s College of Engineering.

“If you look at middle and high schools you will find very little exposure to what we call engineering principles and techniques,” said Louis Martin-Vega, dean of the College of Engineering.

The grant is expected to expand the college’s Research Experience for Teachers program.

The RET program at USF was developed by Carlos Smith, the associate dean for academic affairs at the College of Engineering, and is based on a similar program designed by Martin-Vega while working at NSF. The motivation of the program is based on trying to bring engineering into K-12, Martin-Vega said.

The three-year, $446,593 grant awarded by the NSF will be used to fund the faculty members and teachers that are involved in the program. The award will be used to fund a combination of at least 20 high school and middle school teachers, seven pre-service teachers, or student teachers, and two community college faculty members, Smith said.

In addition to the funding provided by the NSF grant, many faculty members in the College of Engineering have provided stipends from their own research funding to the local teachers involved in the RET program. The Florida High Tech Corridor also provides extra funding for the program.

Overall, the RET program is a five-week program in which local, middle and high school teachers, as well as some pre-service teachers from local universities, are involved with hands-on research, Smith said. The teachers work 40 hours a week and are involved with actual research from day one. The teachers do some research in the field, but the majority is done in the labs on campus. At USF, teachers have access to state of the art university level research facilities and are involved in cutting edge research, Smith said.

After going through the program, teachers are required to develop two lesson plans that they will take back to the classrooms with them. The lesson plans will also be posted on a Web site where other teachers can use them to model their own lesson plans.

“The purpose is for whatever they learn, it should go back to the classroom with the idea to motivate students to engineering, not only theory, but how it is used,” Smith said.

The program has been advertised in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties for the past two years, but so far the largest number of respondents have come from Pasco County, Smith said. For 2004, the advertising will stick mainly to Hillsborough and Pasco counties.

“More and more people are learning about it. I would imagine we are going to have close to 40 or 50 applications (this year),” Smith said.