UNH Cooperative Extension Included in $750K National Science Foundation Award

UNH Cooperative Extension Included in $750K National Science Foundation Award

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Teens at the 2013 4-H Teen Conference on the UNH campus building underwater remotely operated vehicles.

Teens at the 2013 4-H Teen Conference on the UNH campus building underwater remotely operated vehicles.

UNH Cooperative Extension is part of a $750,000 five-year grant from the National Science Foundation’s New Hampshire EPSCoR program to develop a pilot project for students in the state’s Career and Technical Education centers (CTE). Other partners include The Joan and James Leitzel Center for Mathematics, Science, and Engineering Education, and the New Hampshire Department of Education.

Mihaela Sabin, associate professor of computer science at UNH Manchester, will lead the project, entitled “The Ecosystem Computing Challenge: Partnership Model to Build Access to Relevant Computing Education for Underrepresented High School Students.”

To be competitive in the twenty-first century, high school students need to acquire strong computational skills and be able to connect and apply academic content to real-world challenges. The project will challenge students to monitor, map, and provide an understanding of New Hampshire’s natural ecosystems as well as create their own mobile app—learning key science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills in the process.

The students will also hear from industry players, and that’s where Extension comes in. Extension staff will help connect industry professionals to the classrooms so students can gain their perspectives and hear and see firsthand how technological innovations come to life.

Michael Young, UNH Cooperative Extension youth and family program team leader, says Extension’s volunteer and youth development expertise is a natural fit for the project.

“We have extensive expertise when it comes to training and mobilizing volunteer networks. We’ll put that experience to work on this project to create a network of tech-savvy volunteers who will serve as teachers and role models to the students involved,” Young says.

Extension Youth and Family Field Specialists Claes Thelemarck and Sarah Grosvenor will be part of the training team working with Sabin and CTE teachers. “Mihaela is working on the curriculum and Sarah and I will be trained in it this summer along with the CTE teachers,” explains Thelemarck.

Underrepresented populations will be an important focus of the Extension component.

“We want to get them involved in computational thinking—learning how to program and code. We’re going to have them work with developer software to write some apps that focus on environmental data such as water quality monitoring, and how they will share the environmental data through the apps they develop.”

As Thelemarck explains, “Computational skills involve basic math and how to set up the procedures to get x, y, and z results. How do I write a program or a series of steps to make my computer do this task?”

Thelemarck and Grosvenor will also bring an extracurricular component to the project, giving the students opportunities to take their learning beyond the classroom or to apply what they’ve learned to a real-life project.

“This is another one of our sweet spots,” Young adds. “Giving youth hands-on learning opportunities help makes learning stick. This is especially true with scientific learning.”

Written by Holly Young