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Columbia Holds Free Workshop for Public School Math and Science Teachers

Teachers from more than 100 New York City and area public schools came to Columbia University’s Morningside campus on June 28 for the sixth annual Graduate Teaching Fellows K-12 Science and Math Summer Institute. During the free all-day session, Columbia graduate students held workshops on new ways of teaching math and science to a generation of students facing complex and competing demands for their attention.

New York City public school teachers participate in a mock lesson at Columbia University using LEGO robotics to explore linear relationships.
New York City public school teachers participate in a mock lesson at Columbia University using LEGO robotics to explore linear relationships.

Instructors from Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, Bronx High School of Science, Booker T. Washington Junior High School and others from the five boroughs filled lecture halls and laboratories, where graduate students worked with them to make their science and math curricula more relevant and engaging. The students incorporate historical and civic aspects of science and math in fun and entertaining ways, according to Stacey Brydges, a lecturer and associate research scientist in the chemistry department who directs part of the program.

The goal is to provide area teachers with the most current best practices for teaching math and science.

“To be exposed to new knowledge and to catch up on the latest technology is very important because we need to constantly enhance the learning of students who may not be interested in science,” said Neil Wang, a physics teacher at M. Bergtraum High School in Manhattan.

Two New York City Public School teachers demonstrate laboratory
classroom methods for DNA abstraction and purification using chemistry
facilities at Columbia University.
Two New York City Public School teachers demonstrate laboratory classroom methods for DNA abstraction and purification using chemistry facilities at Columbia University.

Engaging teachers and students is the key to changing the way both groups perceive science and the way students view their ability to grasp its concepts.

“If there are ways we can make more connections among the disciplines to show that there is literature in science and science in literature, then barriers can be broken down and science might not be typecast as the ‘hard subject’ or the ‘nerdy subject,’” says Stephanie Pfirman, chair of the Department of Environmental Science at Barnard College.

The event is the joint effort of two Columbia programs that have the shared goal of enhancing how science and math are taught: Technology Integration Partnership (TIP) and Science and Math Partnership.

Funded by the National Science Foundation, TIP is a collaboration between the University's Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) and Teachers College that focuses on advancing the integration of instructional technologies into classrooms using probes, robotics, simulations, engineering design, educational games and visualizations.

Science and Math Partnership, a collaboration of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and New York City public schools, teams graduate students with teachers to share in the design and delivery of an enhanced curriculum, linking new technologies, real-life applications and current research with the aesthetic, historical and civic aspects of science and math.

The mission of both programs is to provide the kind of curricular assistance that area schools seek.

“There is a huge desire and need on the part of teachers and administrators in the community to strengthen the teaching of science,” said Ann McIver, director of the Morningside Area Alliance. “Columbia faculty and its students are a huge resource for our public schools, and programs like this help ensure that local students will benefit from the best thinking on science education. In fact, the collective resources of all the Morningside Heights institutions can be a tremendous help in supporting the schools.”

- Story and photographs by Alex Lyda

Published: June 29, 2007
Last modified: Jul 19, 2007