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Research Program Brings Science to Life for Pre-Service Teachers - 07.12.2011

By Nicole Rodriguez, July 1, 2011
Treasure Coast Palm

FORT PIERCE — Growing up, Jennifer Abbott, 34, of Port St. Lucie thought scientists were nothing but boring men in bland, white coats who conducted frivolous experiments that didn't apply to real life.

Her conceptions all changed this summer when she took part in Indian River State College's first-ever Research Experience for Pre-Service Teachers program. The program, funded by a $2.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, allowed Abbott, a science education major at the college, and five fellow peers, the opportunity to conduct live research alongside scientists from the Ocean Research Conservation Association, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce.

"I always thought scientists were boring lab rats who did the same thing over and over and over again," said Abbott who worked with ORCA scientists to research cost-effective avenues of testing sediment in the Indian River Lagoon for toxins harmful to fish. "Next time you think scientists are boring lab rats, think again."

"This is real-life research I'll be able to take to my students," said the aspiring middle school science teacher who will earn her degree next May.

The six program participants met at the college Wednesday to present their research to their families, peers, local scientists and school staff, including Dr. Edwin Massey, president of IRSC. The seven-week program, which began in early May, aimed to equip future middle school teachers with the experience to teach with knowledge by receiving hands-on experience, college representatives said. The successful program was also sponsored by the Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence based at IRSC and will be back for another summer, said representatives who expressed hope that the program will be duplicated across the state.

"It's very important for educators to have firsthand experience and knowledge," Massey said. "This was a great opportunity to couple students with scientists to get that experience."

Program participant Chris Tolliver, 28, of Vero Beach also squashed his preconceived notion that scientists were dull.

"From the time I could walk, I always loved science, but I thought scientists were cold, emotionless robots," Tolliver said. "What I didn't realize was that scientists are very human and thrive on passion and creativity."

Tolliver discovered the creative side of science through his research at Harbor Branch, where he worked alongside professionals to evaluate whether clams in the Indian River Lagoon could survive changes in salt levels. Tolliver conducted various experiments to test each batch of clams' tolerance to the salt to determine whether clams could become an environmentally sustainable food source, regardless of drought and storms.

"I learned the ability to think outside of the box," said Tolliver, who added that the experience would give him more credibility in the classroom. "This was definitely something I was not going to learn out of a textbook, on YouTube or on an amazing program on the Discovery Channel."

The following links are additional stories about the REPT program:

If you are interested in learning more about the REPT program contact Dr. Sue Cook for more information.

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