Making school-university partnerships a success

Topic discussed at AAAS Annual Meeting in St. Louis

It is very common for cities to declare their intent to become the next telecommunications corridor, biotechnology hub, or some other kind of technological center. But what often goes unexamined is how the human resource development strategy aligns with the economic goals of the municipality. Building civic capacity to support the learning of science and mathematics is vitally important for St. Louis and other cities.

To this end, partnerships between schools and universities to advance human development are critical, says William Tate, Ph.D., Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and Director of the St. Louis Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning.

Tate spoke on "Strategies for Success in School-University Partnerships" Feb. 18 during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis Feb. 16-20.

As part of a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Washington University Department of Education recently partnered with a local, urban public high school to create a data analysis course for students. The course also provided students the option to gain credit toward graduation.

Data analysis was chosen as the subject of the 20-day summer program as a way to help students who were going to be freshmen transition into high school, said William Tate, Ph.D., Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor in Arts & Sciences and Director of the St. Louis Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning.

"Data analysis serves as a process that underpins scientific inquiry," said Tate. "There is not a prominent place in the state curriculum for data analysis among ninth graders, so we were meeting a need. Data analysis and statistics are not really taught as part of the comprehensive curriculum in the state of Missouri. We wanted to give the kids a chance to work with statistics. Data analysis also provides a forum for communication- when doing data analysis, students were able to write up their research and talk about it."

Two post-doctoral and two graduate students taught 50 students in four classes.

"The ultimate goal was to raise the cognitive demand in the curriculum for urban school kids, which is important for future opportunities," Tate said. "Generally, test scores in math and science fall drastically between seventh and 10th grade. We wanted to help these kids in a topic of study that was linked to both areas of the curriculum," he said.

During the course, all the students had the same curriculum but one group had a review during the last few minutes of class and the other group had a quiz. "We wanted to test whether quizzes encouraged greater memory retention over review," Tate said. "We found that the groups had no statistical differences, meaning that quizzes were not a harmful activity. That's an interesting finding for this pilot study. It suggests that the idea of giving quizzes regularly is worth further exploration and that quizzes might be better used as an effective teaching tool."

Even though high school credit was offered, researchers learned that getting the students to attend class was not a trivial activity. "The students averaged about eight days absent each," Tate said. "That's a lot and it's one of the main challenges of summer school programming. If the kids don't come, they can't learn. However, for the kids that were there, I think it worked out great. They learned a lot."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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