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UCR School of Education Receives $2 Million to Boost K-12 Math and Sciences

UCR School of Education Receives $2 Million to Boost K-12 Math and Sciences

(October 6, 1999)

Mathematics and science teaching in elementary and secondary schools will get a boost as the result of two grants totaling nearly $2 million given by the National Science Foundation to the University of California, Riverside School of Education.

The National Science Foundation (NSF), joined by the Department of Education and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, awarded 14 grants, totaling $28.5 million, to 12 institutions in nine states. Most of the grants stretch over three years. UCR and Michigan State University are the only two institutions in the nation to earn two of the coveted grants.

John Cherniavsky, NSF's program manager, said the awards will allow the examination of how school-wide change affects academic performance, as well as how technology can play a meaningful role in classroom instruction and the professional development of teachers.

UCR School of Education Dean Robert Calfee, along with Melanie Sperling, an associate professor of education at UCR, received a $944,112 grant for "Reading and Writing about Science: A Design-Experiment Strategy." Sperling will work with approximately 25 teachers in fourth through eighth grade classes in the Riverside Unified School District to improve the "engagement" of students with their science writing.

"We chose writing in science because it is increasingly critical for children headed for high-tech majors in college to be able to analyze data and write research reports," said Calfee, who is a recognized expert in literacy. Prof. Sperling studies what makes students invest themselves in the creative process of writing, rather than just writing for the sake of completing an assignment. If the new techniques prove to be successful in those classrooms, they will be shared with other teachers in Riverside Unified, Calfee said. He said he has been impressed with how quickly Riverside Unified officials incorporate proven research into classrooms.

Kathleen Metz, an associate professor in the School of Education, received $999,786 for a project called, "What Are the 'Developmental Needs' of Young Children in Science?: Revision of Developmental Constraints on K-3 Science Education." She is working with Michael P. Hamilton, director of the James Reserve in Idyllwild, and Yvonne Poirier, a first grade teacher at Idyllwild School, to investigate the potential of young children's scientific inquiry. Science curriculum, especially as it relates to young children, has been a long-time focus of Metz' research.

Metz will work with eight teachers at Idyllwild School, Fruitvale, Val Vista, Little Lake and Ramona elementary schools, all in the Hemet Unified School District.

"From my previous research, I am sure that the national curriculum guidelines currently underestimate what young children can do," Metz said. "Young children are capable of framing controlled experiments," she said. "They are capable of hypothetical deductive thought."

Her project incorporates writing, reading and mathematical concepts in the teaching of biological sciences, not only in recognition of the demands placed on California's teachers to spend most of their classroom time teaching literacy and math. But also, Metz said, "Real science involves all three." She will train teachers, who in turn will work with children. They plan field trips to the James Reserve in Idyllwild, a forested area that is part of the University of California's Natural Reserve System. They will also use video technology to see live images of animals in other parts of the world, and to use these images in their animal research.

The federal funds were allocated in response to the "Report to the President on the Use of Technology to Strengthen K-12 Education in the United States," in which President Clinton's advisory panel of technology, business and education leaders urged that a significant federal research investment was needed, with a focus on educational technology. According to the report, the United States invests less than 0.1 percent of its annual K-12 public education expenditures (more than $300 billion) on research to determine the effectiveness of educational practices and to improve them accordingly.

"This interagency team has responded ably to the calls of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology to support interdisciplinary, rigorous, large-scale studies in precollegiate education," said Arthur Bienenstock, Associate Director for Science in the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy. He called the grants, "... an important step towards improving the quality and utility of educational research for the betterment of our schools."

A Website that includes a complete listed of funded projects can be found at

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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