|Volume 7, Issue 1 -
"DIMENSIONS" PROGRAM KEEPS NINTH-GRADE STUDENTS INTERESTED IN SCIENCE AND MATHEMATICS
CRPC staff and graduate students at Caltech are taking part in the "Dimensions" program for ninth graders at John Muir High School in Pasadena, CA. The program aims to develop a new curriculum for at-risk ninth graders that will encourage them to stay in school. Other partners in this program include the ArtCenter College of Design, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Pasadena City College.
The idea for the project was developed after a mathematics teacher from John Muir High School, Charles DeVore, attended the CRPC's Minorities Teachers Computational Science and Graphics Awareness Program at Caltech. DeVore subsequently proposed to form the partnership and received funding from the California Academic Partnership Program, a state agency that supports collaborative efforts between high schools, universities, and businesses to improve K-12 education.
An important part of this program involves identifying "at-risk" students before they reach the tenth grade, where the dropout rate for the school reaches a critical high. Students in the program are taught with an emphasis on design problems. The projects are used as a practical, informal way to introduce elementary mathematical skills, such as measuring the weight limits and span across a bridge, determining the strength requirements of a kite, or finding out the costs associated with making a "dream house." Students have also gone on field trips to Caltech to hear lectures, including one on the science and mathematics of the "perfect surfing wave." So far, student response to these assignments has been very positive.
Along the way, students improve their verbal skills by preparing presentations. They also improve their social skills by working in pairs. Students work together, planning a course of action and making sure everything is accomplished on schedule.
Up to this point, CRPC members at Caltech have volunteered their time to the program through tutoring for the students. Several students in Caltech's Concurrent Scientific Computing course (taught by CRPC researcher Eric Van de Velde) and CRPC postdoctoral fellow Cheryl Carey have volunteered in this respect. Other upcoming contributions by CRPC members may include designing more projects and contests for the program.
Currently the "Dimensions" program is in its first year and about 100 students are enrolled. The teachers running the program are DeVore, Jean Toh (a language arts teacher), and Dianne Wahl (a social science consultant). Future efforts for the project's coming years will continue to develop a curriculum that engages students. The program will also make an effort to involve more parents in the learning process.
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