"The Power of Partnerships" Preserves Program's Legacy

A new book from AAAS and the National Science Foundation (NSF), The Power of Partnerships, documents the lessons learned from an innovative program that put science graduate students in K-12 classrooms.

The book is a guide for organizations, groups or individuals who want to create projects that partner graduate students or other professionals in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields with K-12 teachers. The recommendations come from participants in the NSF-funded Graduate STEM Fellows in K-12 Education Program, also known as GK-12, that ran from 1999 through 2012.

At a 22 July breakfast event at AAAS celebrating the book's release, speakers explained that although the publication represents the official completion of the GK-12 program, it is just one part of the program's legacy. Ultimately, the program impacted more than 11,000 graduate student fellows, 12,000 K-12 teachers and 700,000 students, said Joan Ferrini-Mundy, NSF assistant director for Education and Human Resources.

The fellows in particular "are the gift that will keep on giving," said Shirley Malcom, AAAS Education and Human Resources director. "Over time, we're going to need them in order to be able to realize the kind of movement that it's really going to take for us to achieve what we need to achieve in STEM education."

Specifically, meeting the challenges of implementing the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards will require partnerships with "those who are young, enthusiastic and know what a classroom is like", Malcom said. "This is an all-hands-on-deck issue," she continued. "And so having these fellows, I think, will be incredibly important."


Rita Colwell (top) and Shirley Malcom

Moreover, the lessons learned from the GK-12 program will be applied to ongoing programs at NSF, including the new research traineeship program and the graduate research fellowship program, Ferrini-Mundy said.

The GK-12 program started in 1999 when Rita Colwell, then serving as NSF director, "had the vision to initiate a new and novel program that would place STEM graduate students in K-12 classrooms," Ferrini-Mundy said. Teachers benefitted from having graduate students in the classroom and graduate students received teaching experience while encouraging students' interest in STEM fields.

"The idea was not to convert graduate students necessarily to elementary, middle and high school teachers but to make them better citizens, to make them better teachers, make them better researchers," said Colwell, Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and former AAAS president. "Because when you teach, you have to understand better."

The program aimed to nurture the natural curiosity of children with inquiry-based science education. For example, Colwell recalled visiting a GK-12 project at Ohio State University where children learned about aerodynamics by building balsam wood planes and measuring the distance they flew.

"It was discovery. It was learning. It was fun. And the teachers enjoyed it as well," Colwell said. "That's just one example. I visited others and I found that same creativity in getting kids to think, to question, to learn and especially to understand."

AAAS collaborated with NSF during the GK-12 program by organizing annual meetings for project teams that fostered exchange, partnerships and skills development. AAAS also built and maintained the Web site www.gk12.org. The Power of Partnerships was developed following conversations between AAAS and NSF staff members regarding how to capture the program's legacy.

"GK-12 had over 300 projects and it's very hard to capture everything in one volume," Ortega said. "What we tried to do is capture bits and pieces of some of the experiences for others who want to follow and use it."

"This guide, The Power of Partnerships, represents the legacy of a program that has successfully run for more than a decade," Ferrini-Mundy said. "It's a collection of community knowledge and wisdom of practice and experience from the K-12 teachers, from the GK-12 graduate students, from faculty, evaluators and everyone."

The publication "provides the evidence for this approach for teaching, for learning, for the school system," Colwell said. "And so I ask you to become evangelicals for GK-12" by lobbying policymakers in the legislative and executive branches, as well as members of civic groups to support similar programs, she said.

"I want to emphasize, this is not a requiem. This is an evidence-based beginning," Colwell said. "We cannot let this become history. We have to take it into the future."

Read The Power of Partnerships: A Guide from the NSF GK-12 Program

Learn more about the GK-12 Program