News from the Columbia Climate School

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Keeping America Competitive by Sparking Curiosity in the Classroom

Students Kujegi Camara (second from right) and Crystal Burgess (far left) from the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics are currently working with Lamont-Doherty scientists on independent research projects.

To keep America competitive in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the STEM disciplines), a report from the National Academy of Sciences calls for strengthening the skills of some 250,000 teachers across the United States through university-run science training programs. The report asserts that when teachers gain laboratory experience and conduct fieldwork alongside active researchers, they become more effective and passionate educators in the classroom.

For decades, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory has run workshops for classroom instructors, hosted secondary school students and teachers on research expeditions, and organized daylong events for young science enthusiasts to take part in activities like analyzing contamination levels in the Hudson River, or participating in interactive demonstrations of earthquake activity and erupting volcanoes.

A matching gift from the Henry L. and Grace Doherty Charitable Foundation will allow Lamont-Doherty to significantly enhance its K-12 earth and environmental science student education and teacher training programs. To date, Frank and Joanne Gumper, longtime supporters of Lamont-Doherty’s education programs, have pledged $125,000 towards the Foundation’s generous $750,000 challenge grant.

A young boy plays with an interactive volcano at Lamont-Doherty's annual Open House. The event, which draws over three thousand people, features activities for science enthusiasts of all ages.

Once the Doherty grant is fully matched, the Observatory will establish the position of Assistant Director for Education. This individual will be charged with scaling up Lamont-Doherty’s already flourishing K-12 education initiatives, in part by developing partnerships across Columbia with Teachers College, the Engineering School and the Earth Institute’s Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC), among other units within the University.

Lamont-Doherty represents a powerful generator of interdisciplinary knowledge about our planet, from its research on long-term climate trends to earthquake risks and ecosystem sustainability. The Observatory’s ambitious range of inquiry, and the intellectual vitality this occasions, has made its graduate education offerings second-to-none.

Students from a Pearl River, NY AP Environmental Science class hold GPS instruments as they participate in Lamont-Doherty's Day in the Life of the Hudson River event.

Lamont-Doherty gratefully acknowledges the Doherty Foundation for its gift, and looks forward to further developing its robust K-12 science education enterprise that bring the exhilaration of scientific investigation into the classroom.

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Excerpts from President Obama’s address to the National Academy of Sciences, April 2009:

“Since we know that the progress and prosperity of future generations will depend on what we do now to educate the next generation, today I’m announcing a renewed commitment to education in mathematics and science. This is something I care deeply about…. We know that the nation that out-educates us today will out-compete us tomorrow.

We know that the quality of math and science teachers is the most influential single factor in determining whether a student will succeed or fail in these subjects…. I’m challenging states to enhance teacher preparation and training, and to attract new and qualified math and science teachers to better engage students and reinvigorate those subjects in our schools.

But we need to create a way to bring the expertise and the enthusiasm of folks like you into the classroom…Today I want to challenge you to use your love and knowledge of science to spark the same sense of wonder and excitement in a new generation…

I want us all to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it’s science festivals, robotics competitions, fairs that encourage young people to create and build and invent—to be makers of things, not just consumers of things…

For we must always remember that somewhere in America there’s a child with an inquisitive mind staring up at the night sky. And maybe she has the potential to change our world—but she doesn’t know it yet.”

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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