Maine Science Corps
The Maine ScienceCorps is a laboratory intensive science education outreach project connecting University of Southern Maine (USM) graduate bioscience education to high school classrooms across Maine. Increasing interactions with other K-12 grade levels is anticipated in the future. Grant support from the National Science Foundation (NSF) from the Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education GK-12 program) (NSF grants, DGE-0086341 and DGE-0440560) along with significant university support have allowed the Maine ScienceCorps since 2001 to address critical needs for active laboratory-based learning in science classrooms of rural high schools across Maine.
Graduate student GK-12 Fellows in the Maine ScienceCorps receive fellowship support for their laboratory based graduate studies while working with science teachers and their students in approximately twelve high schools each year. More than forty graduate student fellows have received support for their graduate education and outreach work through the program.
The Maine ScienceCorps program emphasizes work in rural communities with local economies based on agriculture or natural resources such as forest products where many families do not have a tradition or expectation of students pursuing higher education. In addition to assisting teachers in meeting state learning standards through access to laboratory resources, major emphasis has been upon introducing authentic interdisciplinary bioscience research projects and research experiences into high school classrooms through collaborative links with university research laboratory resources such as USM’s NanoDiscovery Labs’ bacteriophage ecology and electron microscopy resources (see article in the April/May 2009 issue of The Science Teacher). Student-driven projects focused on using molecular tools to explore particular natural or model environments have provided year-long frameworks for classroom inquiry. Many of the rural students involved in these studies choose to travel to USM on a university-wide poster day to present their research to each other and to the USM community. Thus the GK-12 Fellows facilitate learning of many fundamental concepts within an active research context that concludes with a summative process of data analysis and presentation.
When possible, projects have been significantly integrated with a graduate Fellow’s research interests. For example, several 2008-2009 GK-12 ScienceCorps Fellows at USM pursued thesis research projects investigating microbial and viral ecology in extreme environments. This is also the research emphasis of international experiences for the GK-12 Fellows in a research and education supplemental project in collaboration with University of Nairobi and NASA scientists (funded by a NSF GK-12 international supplemental grant DGE-0749059. Microbial and viral biodiversity at pH extremes at Maine metal mining sites and in soda lakes of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley are being investigated.