UCSB professor co-founded program to mentor kids in experiments
UCSB biochemistry professor Norbert Reich and the SciTrek program have received a $3 million grant from the Department of Defense, which will double the impact of the SciTrek program and expand its reach.
SciTrek serves more than 3,000 local kids by bringing UCSB students into local classrooms, as undergrads help to guide students to design and conduct their own science experiments over a two-week period. The grant will double the impact to allow SciTrek to reach more than 6,000 local kids.
Dr. Reich co-founded SciTrek in 2011 with Darby Feldwinn.
“I got frustrated with the fact that university students were clueless about designing experiments and critical thinking,” Dr. Reich told the News-Press. “So I went around and looked at schools and found that schools don’t do a lot of that kind of teaching. including how to set up an experiment and the whole field of critical thinking. So I started writing grants for elementary children in that area.
“The basic idea was to show kids an observable thing and ask them to come up with questions,” Dr. Reich explained.
From there, the students developed experimental protocols and conducted experiments, which often failed, Dr. Reich said.
“They then repeat the experiments and present them to the class,” he said, adding that UCSB students mentor the kids.
The SciTrek program recently received a $3 million grant which is specifically earmarked for expanding the SciTrek program into Cal State Channel Islands, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Community College.
“I wanted to demonstrate that the program could be effective elsewhere. About three-fourths of the grant goes to those specific schools,” said Dr. Reich.
The grant specifically funds five to eight days of in-class activities, bringing undergrad students into the classroom to help coach students, as teachers leading in class programs with the help of undergrads.
The grant funds the curriculum and materials to fund the program twice a year in every grade. And it is specifically targeting girls and underrepresented minorities in science.
“We have studies that show that girls are really good at designing experiments and collecting data, but girls distance themselves from science between fifth and seventh grades and leave science by the time they get to high school which affects the trajectory of their education and careers. The same is true for minorities,” said Dr. Reich.
The professor received his doctorate in drug design from UC San Francisco in 1984, after which he completed a National Institute of Health post-doctoral fellowship at UCSF. He joined UCSB faculty in 1987.
His awards include: a Regent’s Junior Faculty Fellowship (1987); an American Cancer Society Faculty Research Award (1991); and the UC President’s Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research (1994).
“SciTrek exists to promote the synergies between science inquiry, language arts, and the Next Generation Science Standards,” Dr. Reich said. “We work toward providing on-site resources for students, practicing teachers, and teachers in training to cover required grade level performance expectations and experience the processes that form the basis of all evidence-based approaches to understanding our world.”
“The long-term vision is that people better understand how science works, that it is very straightforward and that it is a powerful way to understand how the world around you works,” Dr. Reich said. “We want to improve the public’s understanding that science is key to understanding the world around them and people more broadly appreciate the changing data of science.”
The grant also helps to fund the creation of a summer program for secondary teachers. paying $3,000 to spend two weeks developing modules for high schools. “I have a group of people who work with us to turn these into actual modules,” said Dr. Reich. “One struggle we are having is that every demographic of teachers has their own unique set of circumstances that we are grappling with. Teachers feel like their schedule is so full they have no room for other things. It’s a challenge for teachers who don’t have science degrees.”
“A win for us is that we sustainably and with evidence improve and address the attrition that happens between grade school and high school in girls and underrepresented minorities in STEM. That is a big, big national issue.”