Rationale for the Program
At the national level, there is increasing realization how much our nation depends on the quality of our scientists and engineers and having scientifically literate citizens to maintain our place in the competitive global economy. As scientists-in-training, graduate students may help high school students understand that science is more than a collection of facts and share that science is a powerful way of solving important problems. They may even help capable younger students choose a career in science by conveying to them the excitement of discovery that a scientist experiences. Part of why our country's students are not doing better in science and mathematics in international comparisons is based on the failure of higher education to fully participate in the training of future and current teachers. By joining the GK-12 program, graduate students were able to become part of the solution to an important national problem.
The NSF Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) Program supported fellowships and training for graduate students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The Brooklyn College–based program, also called City as Lab, operated from 2007 to 2013. Through interactions with teachers and students in K-12 schools, graduate fellows were able to improve their own communication and teaching skills while enriching STEM content and instruction for their K-12 partners. NSF developed the GK-12 program recognizing that, in addition to being competent researchers, STEM graduate students must be able to communicate science and research to a variety of audiences. As the graduate students brought their cutting-edge research and practice into the K-12 classroom, they gained skills that enabled them to explain science to people of all ages, from students to teachers. Much of a scientific career requires explaining research work and details about a field of science to a non-expert audience (including in grant proposals). GK-12 program involved developing the talent to explain complex concepts in simple, accessible language, which likely paid dividends for the fellow who participated in the program. Further, participation as a GK-12 Fellow in a nationally recognized NSF-funded program was an activity that the fellows put on their CVs for postdoctoral positions, and academic and non-academic jobs. GK-12 Fellowship status became a recognized and respected credential indicating both experience and a commitment to training future scientists and educated citizens about science, engineering, mathematics and technology.
The Brooklyn College City as Lab project was a community-based initiative that focused on opportunities to engage high-school students in science-experiences with Brooklyn's parklands and urban neighborhoods. Notably, fellows helped teachers in developing City as Lab research activities in which geospatial technology (GPS and GIS) permitted students and teachers to relate data to geographic position, and explore and analyze scientific data, which, in turn, engaged students in authentic scientific activities that are relevant to the urban environment in which they live.