A science initiative that turned Buffalo students into the teachers has been awarded a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation.
The federal money will fund for three more years a summer science program that focuses on teaching students about mapping, or geospatial information systems.
The project is one of many to be included as part of the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Partnership – ISEP, for short – an effort among city schools, the University at Buffalo, SUNY Buffalo State and the Buffalo Museum of Science to make science more relevant and interesting in some of the district's lower-performing schools.
What the National Science Foundation specifically liked about the GIS project was the dependence the teachers and students had on each other, said Joseph A. Gardella Jr., a UB chemistry professor who spearheads ISEP.
"The teachers and middle school students were learning to map invasive species at Tifft Nature Preserve using smartphones with GPS units so the kids could take them into the field," Gardella explained.
"But what happened in the summer activity is that the teachers realized the students could do more on the programming side than they could," Gardella said. "The teachers were depending on the students to get things set up and it had a synergistic effect."
"The students became sophisticated participants," Gardella said. "That convinced the NSF that this really was a unique situation."
Gardella in 2011 received a five-year, $9.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation for ISEP, but the funding officially ends this year.
Gardella and Buffalo school officials have promised to keep alive – and even expand – the program by applying for more smaller grants like this one.