August 26, 2008 - Bethlehem, PA - Lehigh University has received a $317,778 grant from the Toyota USA Foundation to promote environmental literacy in the nation's middle schools. The grant will be used to create professional development materials for teachers, as well as to update science curriculum using a package of innovative instructional technologies.
Lehigh's WELIM initiative - Web-enhanced Environmental Literacy and Inquiry Modules—is a collaborative effort between its College of Education and the university's Environmental Initiative. The program will be first piloted by Nitschmann and Broughal Middle Schools in Bethlehem, Pa, the latter of which is a NASA Explorer School.
"The Toyota USA Foundation is proud to support the WELIM initiative," said Patricia Pineda, Toyota's Group Vice President, National Philanthropy and the Toyota USA Foundation. "Education has always been a priority for us, and environmental literacy is critical for the next generation of leaders. WELIM will teach environmental science in a comprehensive and innovative way."
The program will rely on geospatial information technologies (GIT) to help students analyze information and data on three core topics: energy, climate change and the impact of human activity on the environment. Issues such as urban and suburban sprawl, water resource usage, pollution, and ecosystem management will be included in the curriculum.
The 2005 National Academies report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, helped draw attention to a critical lack of focus on science education in America. In order to remain globally competitive, the report calls for 16.5% increase in the number of American students taking advanced placement (AP) or international baccalaureate (IB) level mathematics or science exams by 2010, as well as aggressive recruitment and training program for the nation's 250,000 secondary science and math teachers.
The WELIM initiative is a pilot program that directly addresses both concerns simultaneously using GIT. The technologies, which range from handheld GPS systems to Web satellite imagery, help students explore geography and collect data while becoming more familiar with their environment.
All materials will closely align with the National Science Education Standards, combining environmental sciences with a more contemporary curriculum.
"We've gone through years—almost a full generation—without significantly changing our country's science curriculum to reflect the global issues our society is facing," says Dr. Alec Bodzin, associate professor of teaching, learning and technology with Lehigh's College of Education, and the lead principal investigator (PI) of the grant. "There's definitely a renewed interest in energy conservation. The challenge is incorporating these topics into our curriculum in a timely and relevant manner, while giving teachers the tools and resources in order to that effectively."
Dr.Dork Sahagian and Dr. David Anatsasio, both professors of earth and environmental sciences with Lehigh's College of Arts and Sciences, are grant co-PIs. The grant will also support three PhD candidates, two from Lehigh's College of Education and one from Lehigh's earth and environmental sciences program.
"There have been many obstacles preventing this country's science and environmental curricula to advance in a competitive manner," says Sahagian, who also serves as director of Lehigh's Environmental Initiative. He argues that science education is hampered by a lack of resources, effective teacher training modules, and technology accessibility.
"With a new emphasis on science proficiency and environmental literacy, our WELIM project can really help transform science instruction and shape how we approach these issues in just a few years," he says.
The Toyota USA Foundation is a $100 million charitable endowment created to support education programs serving kindergarten through 12th-grade students and their teachers in the United States, with an emphasis on mathematics, science and environmental science. For additional information about the Toyota USA Foundation, visit www.toyota.com/foundation.
Lehigh's Environmental Initiative is a multidisciplinary effort that brings together a full spectrum of scientists, engineers, social scientists, and educators to respond to—and prepare students for—the environmental problems facing modern and future societies.
About Lehigh University
For 143 years, Lehigh University (www.lehigh.edu) has combined outstanding academic and learning opportunities with leadership in fostering innovative research. The institution is among the nation's most selective, highly ranked private research universities. Lehigh's four colleges – College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business and Economics, College of Education and the P.C. Rossin College of Engineering and Applied Science – provide opportunities to 6,500 students to discover and grow in a learning community that promotes interdisciplinary programs with real-world experience. Lehigh's campus is located in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley – in Bethlehem, PA (50 miles north of Philadelphia and 75 miles southwest of New York City).
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