PowerPoints, labs and learning about science are some of Owen Goodnight Middle School’s sixth grade students’ favorite things thanks to Project Flowing Waters.
Owen Goodnight is one of many San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District schools participating in Project Flowing Waters. The program is a five-year, $3.2 million GK-12 grant from the National Science Foundation in collaboration with Texas State Aquatic Resources graduate students and SMCISD middle and high school science teachers.
The graduate students spend a few hours a week in classrooms leading science activities, going on field trips and teaching lessons about scientific topics varying from centrifugal force to plate tectonics.
“The purpose of them going is to bring research to (the middle school students), talk about the cutting edge research and to be mentors or role models,” said Julie Westerlund, associate professor for biology and co-principle investigator of Project Flowing Waters.
The middle school students get a chance to experience real-world scientific discoveries and hands-on learning while the eight graduate students, called fellows, work on their dissertations and personal scientific endeavors. Owen Goodnight is equipped with a pond where students take samples and learn about wildlife found in similar areas.
“They get really excited with big eyes when they used to just say ‘Oh, whatever,’” said Sunni Taylor, aquatic resources doctoral student.
Sandra Baker, eighth grade science teacher at the school, said having real scientists in her classroom cannot be compared to any other educational outlet. She said the fellows have turned the kids on to science.
“You get to learn a lot more,” said sixth grade student Paul Espinosa. “Like when they brought microscopes, you got to see different things up close.”
Espinosa also said the graduate students are “cool” because they are friends, scientists and teachers who the students have close relationships with.
Westerlund is researching whether the project improves the young scientists’ attitudes toward science and pursuing higher education.
“A couple of years ago we saw an increase on their test scores in eighth grade science, which was quite a dramatic increase,” Westerlund said.
Westerlund said the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) scores may be improved by programs like Project Flowing Waters and different changes within the school system.
The program is in its fourth year and nearing the end of its funding. Steve Dow, Owen Goodnight’s principal, said he hopes the project continues.
Baker, Taylor and other graduate students traveled to Washington D.C. to present at a national GK-12 convention and gave a workshop over what they have done with Project Flowing Waters in hopes to extend the grant. Baker said they are beginning to receive donations.
“It’s like planting a seed, and it blossomed, “ Baker said. “We’ve been lucky to have what we have.”