MUSIC for Science

Sparking interest: Engineering's Ybarra patches elementary students into electrical connections

Sparking interest: Engineering's Ybarra patches elementary students into electrical connections. Photo: Chris Hildreth


As a vote of confidence in the Pratt School of Engineering's ongoing efforts to improve the teaching of science, technology, and mathematics in grades K-12, the National Science Foundation has agreed to fund a new program that will integrate engineering into all subjects in the standard curriculum for North Carolina public schools. The $1.4-million program, called MUSIC: Math Understanding through Science Integrated with Curriculum, is headed by Gary Ybarra, associate professor of the practice of electrical and computer engineering, and Martha Absher, assistant dean for education and outreach.

Under the MUSIC program, Pratt will team up with four area schools: Lakewood Elementary School, Rogers-Herr Middle School, Central Elementary School, and Orange Charter School. MUSIC builds on the engineering school's earlier collaborations in K-12 outreach, including the TASC, MUSCLE, and Techtronics programs. The goal of these programs is to increase significantly the number of students who choose science- and engineering-related careers by introducing "inquiry-based" instruction, which encourages students to "think as scientists."

An innovative aspect of MUSIC will be the creation of the first Marine Engineering Teaching Fellows (ETFs), linking the Pratt School with the Duke Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina. There, Celia Bonaventura, professor of cell biology at the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences and director of the Marine/

Freshwater Biomedical Center at the marine lab, heads an NSF-funded program, "Scientists in Schools." The Marine ETFs are to be selected from graduate students entering Duke's Coastal and Environmental Management program and will spend the spring semester working in the Pratt School and the fall semester at the Duke Marine Lab.

The Marine ETFs will work with Pratt ETFs and teachers at the partner schools to create lesson plans and activities that integrate marine engineering with the standard curriculum in North Carolina schools. "This new grant will allow us to engage thousands of children in exciting engineering projects," Ybarra says. "These children will learn math in the context of solving meaningful problems that will improve the quality of life of humans, animals, and the environment."

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