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   from the issue of June 8, 2006

Project Fulcrum puts UNL scientists into Lincoln schools


"Give me a long enough lever and a place to stand and I can move the Earth." – Archimedes, Greek mathematician (287-212 BC)

Project Fulcrum is unveiling a new interpretation for Archimedes' famous idiom.

The idea of moving the world was the foundation for the idea of Project Fulcrum, sponsored by UNL, Lincoln Public Schools and the National Science Foundation. The program strives to promote inquiry-based science - thinking critically and asking questions - in elementary and middle schools.

To achieve this goal, UNL graduate students in science and math are paired with Lincoln school teachers. The graduate students, called Project Fulcrum Scientists, interact with young students in their classrooms.

"The neat thing is that you get paid to do something that is fun and is a respite from research," said JoDell Whittington, a doctoral student in biochemistry, who meets two or three times a week with Mickle Middle School seventh graders.

Gary Furse, a sixth-grade science teacher at Pound Middle School, said the Project Fulcrum scientists highlight the ways that science interacts with other fields. He said this type of learning encourages kids to "make connections between what they do and what they see in their real world."

"We forget that science is connected to math and social studies and that health is related to weather, until you see the big picture, and that's what (Project Fulcrum Scientists) bring - a wealth of knowledge we just don't have," said Furse.

Diandra Leslie-Pelecky, a UNL associate professor in physics and astronomy and an originator of Project Fulcrum, sees these benefits in teachers as well.

"I've seen a huge amount of confidence increasing in the teachers that we work with," she said.

It was in this spirit of communication that Leslie-Pelecky began Project Fulcrum six years ago. The program grew out of her experiences of visiting classrooms when she was a graduate student. When she came to Nebraska, she wanted to encourage interdisciplinary learning, so she began a program for graduate students to go to schools.

"When the National Science Foundation came out with a call for proposals to do something more formal, it just seemed natural," Leslie-Pelecky said.

Leslie-Pelecky collaborated with professors in physics, chemistry and education and with a teacher at Clinton Elementary to create the idea for Project Fulcrum. The project received a grant from the National Science Foundation; since then, more than 30 Nebraska graduate students have taught in more than 120 classrooms at 25 schools across Lincoln. Now, on the verge of starting its third phase, Project Fulcrum has received a total of more than $2.4 million.

Project Fulcrum is one of about 120 similar programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation nationwide.



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