Scientists from Texas A&M University have shared their passion for science by visiting more than 30,000 students in their classrooms over the past five years as a result of PEER (Partnership for Environmental Education and Rural Health), an innovative outreach program of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Lighting a fire in youngsters about the world of science and discovery is the goal of the program, says Dr. Larry Johnson, Director of PEER. “The PEER Program is a partnership between rural public schools and higher education to stimulate interest and enthusiasm in science among middle school students.”
The program has been making a significant impact on students for the past several years. Grant money was recently awarded from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Institute of Science (NSF) to continue the work of nurturing the minds of budding scientists.
“Middle school is the prime development time to stimulate a student’s interest in math and science,” Johnson says. The curriculum materials used in the program offer a unique approach to integrating environmental health science into science and non-science classes such as math, English language arts and social studies. “The curriculum engages students through a written narrative where they travel to different parts of the world and are faced with various environmental health problems which they are required to solve,” explains Johnson.
Each adventure narrative is in Power Point and contains links along the way to various learning resources with information on skills needed in each subject. “Examples of these include links on how to calculate percentages in math, how to establish latitude and longitude of a location in social studies, how to write a satire in English or what types of bacteria or parasites can cause a particular illness.” Johnson says. “For example, The Kiss of
the Assassin focuses on pathogens and bacterial infectious diseases that can be obtained from insects, like the “kissing bug”, that harbor the bacteria and serve as vectors for the disease.”
The program also provides valuable learning resources and opportunities for students, teachers and scientists. “In addition to ‘firing up’ students about science and math, the program also serves as a comprehensive online distance learning tool for science teachers and their students. It also gives graduate scientists the platform to share their excitement and knowledge about science with the schools in rural and remote communities,” Johnson says.
“Texas A&M faculty view the program as an enrichment tool for their personal and professional development and a unique opportunity to serve as mentors to our scientists of the future,” says Johnson.
For more information about the PEER program at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, visit http://peer.tamu.edu