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Northern Arizona University is training high school teachers in Coconino County to merge hard science and applied technology as a way to help students develop skills to solve real-world problems in their communities.
The Harnessing the Power of Data project—also called the POD Project—pairs local career technology and education instructors with science or math teachers to help their students grasp ways that math and science applications relate to geospatial or mapping technologies.
Using tools like geographic information systems, students are taught to capture and analyze data linked to a location. As an example, students could gather data from a specific site about its soil composition, groundwater use and flood hazards to determine whether the area could safely support a physical structure. Students also could apply their acquired data analysis skills to plot out the safest route to school or whether the number and condition of trees in their neighborhoods pose a fire hazard.
With this technical approach, students not only build their understanding of science, technology, engineering and math, but they also develop important life skills like teamwork, problem solving and critical thinking that are vital to future career success.
The program is possible thanks to a $400,000 Math or Science Achievement Grant administered by Science Foundation Arizona and awarded by the state Board of Education. The funding was announced at a gathering last week at NAU’s Applied Research and Development building, where NAU President John Haeger, a member of the Arizona State Board of Education, congratulated the project’s partners on setting the bar high to prepare students with real-life skills focused on innovation and data-driven decision making.
“This grant will prepare students for both the workforce and postsecondary education,” he said. “It is the perfect example of what constitutes a program based on career and college readiness." He also called NAU a “natural partner” in this initiative for its place at the forefront of providing creative and effective learning techniques that can be replicated across Arizona.
The POD Project partners NAU’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning, the Coconino Association for Vocations, Industry and Technology, and high schools from rural communities across northern Arizona, including Flagstaff, Williams, Page, Tuba City, Rimrock and Verde Valley. Participants will have access to resources and technology available at NAU’s School of Geology and the university’s Geospatial Research and Information Laboratory.
High school teachers involved in the project will undergo more than 70 hours of training at NAU, where they will learn geology content, teaching methods and how to solve problems using GIS technology.
“The application for this type of science training reaches so many different career fields, even into areas such as criminal justice, where investigators conduct crime pattern analysis in their work,” said Lori Rubino-Hare of NAU’s Center for Science Teaching and Learning. “There also is a great need for scientists, technology experts, engineers and mathematicians trained in geospatial data analysis.”
William Harris, president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona, said the POD Project is important for inspiring the next generation of teachers, scientists and researchers. "These students have the capacity to be the individual or member of a team that makes discoveries that change the world," he said. "Whether it is in earth sciences, sustainable energies, engineering or biomedicine, they are embarking on a learning expedition that will serve them well throughout life."