A new grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) will enable UCSF’s Science and Health Education Partnership (SEP) to continue to grow its groundbreaking Bridges program aimed at improving science education for the children of San Francisco.
The four-year $539,671 grant comes at a particularly good time because state funds have been declining due to budget constraints, according to SEP’s executive director, Liesl Chatman. “The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has looked at our work and agreed that it is important and must continue. In these times, that kind of renewed support for science education from a funder is remarkable,” she said.
The Bridges program is an intensive professional development program that brings elementary and middle school teachers from the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) to UCSF where they learn scientific concepts as well as the process by which science is conducted.
The award to UCSF SEP was one of 19 grants made to institutions across the country. HHMI invited nearly 300 medical schools and other biomedical research institutions to apply for $10 million in new grants as part of its Pre-college Science Education Initiative for Biomedical Research Institutions.
The grant will allow approximately 200 teachers (representing 8,750 students) to participate in courses offered by Bridges. Each teacher will receive about 100 hours of professional development training. Nearly 2,400 elementary and middle school students will have contact with some 80 scientists through scientist-teacher partnerships for course alumni.
SEP first received support from HHMI in 1994, later launching Bridges in 1999. Since it began, the core of the Bridges program has been a summer course for teachers called “Architecture of Life.” This graduate-level course—taught by SEP staff members with backgrounds in scientific research and science education—focuses on basic biological structures and functions. But, more than just learn the material, teachers examine how they themselves learn best as a way of encouraging creativity in their own teaching.
“We work with teachers to help them understand that learning science entails the same process scientists use to explore something that no one understands,” Chatman explained.
Learning both the concepts and process of science has resulted in better science teaching, Chatman said. This has been measured by SEP staff members through extensive evaluations of teachers’ knowledge and attitudes before and after the course. SEP also sponsors Scientist-Teacher Action Teams for course alumni. This part of the program brings scientists into classrooms to deepen conceptual knowledge and support the implementation of teaching methods, further allowing SEP to gauge the success of the Bridges program.
Pre- and post-course evaluations have documented the success of the program. “What we find is that there’s a significant impact on the teachers’ attitudes towards science, their understanding of science and their willingness to teach science,” Chatman said.
The new funds from HHMI will allow expansion of existing programs and resources, as well as allow a second course, “Chemistry of Life,” to be offered. The grant will also allow the expansion of a pilot program that looks at the impact of the teachers’ participation in the program on the students themselves. “We’ve created groups where teachers bring examples of their students work and we discuss them in light of what they’ve learned about science teaching and learning through the Bridges partnership,” Chatman said. “That’s when we get an insight into what’s actually happening with the students.”
“Architecture of Life” is currently underway and print and broadcast media are invited to visit the classrooms and experience Bridges for themselves.