Educators at Maryville University have started developing new approaches for teaching chemistry in high schools thanks to a generous $100,000 grant from the Monsanto Fund, the philanthropic arm of the Monsanto Company.
The program, “Bubbles, Baubles and Beakers: Engaging High School Students in Scientific Inquiry through the Chemistry of Personal Products, Jewelry and Photography,” is being developed with common items teens and young adults use to spark interest in chemistry laboratory assignments.
Maryville’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement Tom Eschen thanked the Monsanto Fund for its support of “Bubbles, Baubles and Beakers” and said, “This is a wonderful example of how strong community relationships make a difference. It brings together Maryville’s educational expertise with the resources and support of Monsanto to three area public school districts to raise the bar on scientific inquiry. This project will extend benefits across the region and beyond.”
The grant will allow Maryville University Assistant Professor of Chemistry Jennifer Yukna to develop new high school chemistry lab curricula that model the scientific process through inquiry-based learning methods.
Students will work first on projects that will teach foundational skills and then learn how to develop lab experiments that will answer their own questions.
“In real science, you come up with a question, and you take steps to answer it,” Yukna said. She anticipates creating one lab where students will develop photographs using chemicals and another lab where student could make perfume or cologne. Additional labs will help students master other skill sets. Such projects may sound simple, but they require developing specific competencies and scientific knowledge.
“The Bubbles, Baubles and Beakers program is fun and most importantly a way for teenagers to understand the relevance of science in their world,” said Deborah Patterson, Monsanto Fund president. “A well-rounded and inquiry-based science experience is important to a student’s educational success and Monsanto Fund is proud to support the program.”
Once the experiments are developed, professors will test the new labs through a new general education science course on campus. Maryville would distribute materials through a summer institute for 20 high school teachers from three school districts — St. Louis, Parkway and Ritenour – next summer, and a website will offer teachers free access to the curricula and lab experiments. Organizers believe the approach will increase student understanding of science and improve science test scores.
Sam Hausfather, dean of Maryville’s School of Education, is involved with the effort to teach high school educators about the new labs. He said, “St. Louis is increasingly becoming known for its BioBelt, and for having industries that require skilled scientists. Monsanto clearly is interested in helping more students become interested in the sciences, and we think programs like this, with topics that relate to things in the real world, allow students to experience the excitement of scientific discovery.”
Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and Chemistry Professor Candace Chambers said the grant is a good fit for Maryville. “We greatly appreciate the Monsanto Fund’s belief in the `Bubbles, Baubles and Beakers’ project. It will build student skills and interests in areas where more scientists are needed,” she said. “As professionals, chemists and those in the industry often look for ways improve the state of chemistry education for those in kindergarten through high school. This project will do just that.”
With recent science lab upgrades and a revamp of its scientific offerings, Maryville University continues to improve its science programs, with a new emphasis on hands-on inquiry and student research projects.