Ask any young student what a scientist looks like and answers typically involve descriptions of older, frizzy-haired, bearded men wearing lab coats. An unusual partnership between Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and the San Diego Unified School District has challenged this notion by bringing Scripps graduate students and cutting-edge science into local K–12 classrooms.
In 2009, the National Science Foundation’s outreach program, Graduate Teaching Fellows in K–12 Education (GK–12), awarded a five-year, $2.5 million grant to fund the Scripps Classroom Connection fellowship. Each year for the past five, Scripps Classroom Connection partnered nine Scripps graduate students with nine teachers in K–12 classrooms across San Diego County. During a four-week summer workshop, the graduate students collaborated with seasoned teachers to create yearlong lesson plans for earth science students.
For some public-school students, including those from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the program has changed their thinking about their own academic potential, and the possibilities of pursuing a science career. When Moira Décima participated in the program as a Scripps graduate student, she found that some of her ninth- and tenth- grade earth science students at San Diego High School—many of them San Diego natives—had never been to the beach. She and her partner, high school teacher Stephen Halpern, organized a classroom field trip to the tide pools in La Jolla. This hands-on research involvement was a thrilling “first” for many of the students.
In addition to improving earth science literacy in local classrooms and fostering connections between Scripps and the K–12 community, the program has helped early-career Scripps scientists learn communications skills that are critical for explaining their scientific work to congressmen, donors, and the public at large. The experience of Scripps students in local classrooms has also broadened their perspective on US education regarding the challenges faced by K–12 teachers, the schools, the districts, and the nation as a whole.