President Schapiro, Mayor Tisdahl Visit Reach for the Stars

President Schapiro, Mayor Tisdahl Visit Reach for the Stars

Reach for the Stars Evanston Mayor
Northwestern University president Morton Schapiro and Evanston mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl got a glimpse of the benefits of a unique new collaboration between the University and local schools this week. They watched Northwestern graduate students teach Evanston Township High School (ETHS) students about cutting-edge scientific research as part of Northwestern’s Reach for the Stars program in local schools.

Reach for the Stars is supported by the National Science Foundation through a five-year $2.7 million Graduate Teaching Fellows in K-12 Education (GK-12) grant. Physics and astronomy professor Vicky Kalogera is the principal investigator, and Kemi Jona of the School of Education and Social Policy and Darren Gergle of School of Communication are co-principal investigators for the project, which currently pairs seven graduate fellows with science teachers at six schools.

On May 9 representatives from Northwestern joined Tisdahl and ETHS superintendent Eric Witherspoon for visits to two classrooms where graduate fellows act as “resident scientists.”

Both of the fellows at ETHS use computational modeling in their astrophysics research and are introducing it to the physics and astronomy teachers and students they work with for 10 to 15 hours per week. Computational modeling is very important in scientific research, according to Kalogera.

In the classroom of physics teacher Dan DuBrow, Northwestern doctoral candidate Jason Hwang presented a lesson on the use of waves to study smoothed particle hydrodynamics. Then he and DuBrow answered questions as small groups of students worked at computers on a wave simulation.

Reach for the Stars Shapiro

In the astronomy classroom of GionMatthias Schelbert, Northwestern doctoral student Ben Farr demonstrated how gravity can be seen as the result of curvature of the fabric of space-time. Again, both the science teacher and graduate student worked together to answer student questions.

The goal of Reach for the Stars is to train graduate students in communicating their complex research and to bring computational thinking into the K-12 classroom. Science teachers work closely with the graduate students to write lesson plans and develop activities.

“You have the best of both worlds — high-level science combined with experts in education,” says Michelle Paulsen, the project coordinator. “It is a win-win situation. The teachers and students at ETHS are learning all about the research being done in astrophysics. At the same time, the graduate students learn from the teachers how to take something that is very complicated – their research – and break it down in a way that is understandable and relevant to the high school students. The high school students are also learning what it is really like to be a graduate student in science at Northwestern University.”

After the classroom visits, Schapiro and the other Northwestern representatives met with Witherspoon to discuss additional potential partnerships between ETHS and Northwestern, as well as ways the University and ETHS can continue to work together to enhance student learning. Jona is director of Northwestern’s Office of STEM Education Partnerships, which supports K-12 students and teachers by connecting them with the world-class science, technology, engineering and mathematics resources of Northwestern University.

Evanston mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl observes students in an ETHS classroom where a Northwestern fellow is a “resident scientist.”
Northwestern president Morton Schapiro and professor Vicky Kalogera look over the projects of students in a Reach for the Stars classroom.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 3/7/17