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University of Colorado educator to use presidential award for education innovation

Nancy Songer, an innovator in promoting the use of the Internet and other advanced technologies in the classroom, has been awarded an NSF Presidential Faculty Fellowship. An assistant professor of education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Songer says the award is especially significant because "they've never given it to someone doing research in the educational arena before." The fellowships usually go to faculty working in more traditional sciences or engineering. The Presidential Faculty Fellowships, which go through the White House, differ from most research grants in that they are awarded on the basis of the individual's track record in research and teaching, rather than in response to a formal proposal with a definite plan. Their purpose, explains Songer, is to allow promising researchers "to do things that are a little more innovative and riskier than usual."

Songer's grant, which she received in a White House ceremony on 23 February, provides five years of no-overhead funding totaling $500,000. What will Songer and her colleagues do with these funds? "We aren't sure yet; we're just getting started. We're looking at the educational potential of several emerging technologies, including virtual reality, 3-D imagery and professional conferencing software. We hope to explore ways in which these new tools, many of which are being used by professional scientists, can be adapted for classrooms leading to dramatic new opportunities for learning. It's very fun but it is also very difficult because there is no real plan."

Songer has had numerous interactions with UCAR. Her Kids as Global Scientists (KGS) program involves Boulder Valley middle school students in an eight-week session of tracking current global weather patterns using their school Internet access and data from UCAR's Unidata program. She has also been deeply involved in UCAR's Skymath Demonstration Project. With funding from NSF, Skymath is aimed at demonstrating the effectiveness of using real-time weather data to teach mathematics in middle schools. Songer was one of the advisors on the project, and now some KGS school sites are testing the newly developed Skymath teaching materials. For more information, contact Songer (songer@stripe.colorado.edu or 303-492-4914). Project information is available at http://stripe.colorado.edu/~kgshtml/Home.html.


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