$1.25 million NIH grant links science to literature


picture: Books
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Credit: University of Missouri

COLUMBIA, Mo. — As an eighth-grade science teacher in Missouri, Jeannie Sneller knows firsthand that it can be difficult for some middle school students to have the stamina and reading comprehension skills needed to make sense of complex text, charts, tables and graphs. necessary to understand eighth grade science, engineering, and math topics.

In an effort to build disciplinary literacy skills for high school students in classrooms like Sneller’s, professors at the University of Missouri have won a $1.25 million grant from the Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA ) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The grant will create educational resources combined with professional development for teachers that complement existing curricula in creative and innovative ways.

The resources are centered on current scientific research topics, such as the health effects of electronic cigarettes, and are combined to form a set of multimodal texts. A multimodal text set includes a series of lessons that integrate different resources, such as news, videos, art, podcasts, comics, music, cartoons and picture books, designed to ‘buttress’ learning to help students develop new concepts and ability to read complex text. Additionally, an important goal is to improve students’ use of scientific argument, or the ability to make a claim, back up the claim with scientific evidence, and then use logic or reasoning to justify why the evidence supports the claim.

“Our research found that this educational approach helps all students, and especially those with disabilities,” said Delinda van Garderen, professor of special education in MU’s College of Education and Human Development. “As teachers, we need to support all students, including those with diverse learning needs and from diverse socio-economic backgrounds, as some students with disabilities may not excel in science education. This support can have an impact on their trajectory as they enter university and the labor market. Hopefully, we can inspire kids at the middle school level to make traditionally underrepresented groups feel confident about potential careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

The new grant builds on the success of the existing SEPA grant from NIH researchers, which provides resources to teachers like Sneller at Missouri colleges.

Under the existing grant, teachers reported successful improvements in students’ ability to understand texts and use scientific argument, but some of their students still had difficulty analyzing graphs, tables, and charts. tables often found in math textbooks. The new grant will expand what has been learned to include high school teachers in other states and will also include a math component.

“Once I started implementing the interventions that MU provided me with, I saw some of my students who were struggling to learn now suddenly write full sentences. They were able to read these longer texts , understand them, and then write about them using affirmations, evidence and reasoning,” Sneller said. “It also helped me as a teacher to become more aware and reflective about the resources I was using. in class. Not all students enter eighth grade being able to fully understand textbooks designed for an eighth grade level, so by using a variety of tools to engage their interest, learning becomes more exciting for students and they are much more engaged with content. .”

Previous research has indicated that college is a time when many students begin to consider their future career path. The grant will allow math and science teachers to share resources that complement the classroom curriculum with the goal of increasing student interest in these subjects.

“Literacy is the key to unlocking the doors of opportunity,” said Amy Lannin, director of MU’s on-campus writing program and associate professor in MU’s College of Education and Human Development. “Whether it’s math, science or language arts, an increase in literacy is often linked to an increase in confidence, and we, as teachers and researchers, can help encourage our students to pursue any field that might interest them.”

Although the project is aimed at colleges, the lessons learned will have a positive impact on the global workforce, which continues to diversify but still has underrepresented numbers of women, minorities and people with disabilities in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

“We are committed to creating a more diverse workforce, where scientific argument plays a key role among all citizens every day,” said William Folk, professor at MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources and MU School of Medicine. “There are racial and socioeconomic disparities in our population, so by having a more diverse workforce of physicians and researchers, we can better meet the needs of all members of our society.”

Funding for the grant was provided by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) under award number R25GM146287. The content is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

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