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(left to right) Dr. Isai T. Urasa, Chair of the Chemistry Department, Dr. Vanessa Thaxton-Ward Hampton Museum curator, and Valinda Carroll, Manager of the Hampton Preservation Department. (Photo Courtesy of Hampton University News)

The Hampton University Department of Chemistry has been awarded a $225,728 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a project designed to assist science teachers in the Hampton City School system to develop laboratory activities.

The one-year pilot project titled “Inquiry-based learning using cultural heritage materials and other locally accessible resources: A professional development program for public school science teachers.” The project is designed to assist science teachers in the Hampton City School system to develop student-centered laboratory activities for their science curriculum. Six science teachers selected from three high schools in the city of Hampton will attend a series of monthly workshops during the school year, and a two-week summer institute where the teachers will design and test inquiry-based laboratory activities.

The pilot project is under the direction of principal investigator Dr. Isai T. Urasa, Professor and Chair of Chemistry and co-principal investigators Dr. Vanessa Thaxton-Ward HU Museum curator, and Mrs. Valinda Carroll, Manager of HU Preservation Department.

“The idea is to interject in laboratory instruction the critical elements of personal identity, relevance, and practical applications,” said Urasa.

The development of inquiry-based activities will be guided by the State of Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) for Science. These activities will also incorporate local resources including materials from the HU Museum and the preservation department; the Chesapeake Bay watershed; and faculty research programs.

“We are using examples from the library to show how we use science in our work,” said Carroll. “For example, we measure pH to detect acetic acid vapors from deteriorating photographic film. We also measure pH when we use alkaline solutions to preserve paper documents. Chemistry is an essential part of preservation, and this project provides an opportunity to explain real-world applications of science in a cultural heritage context.”

The teachers will return to their schools with one-to-two inquiry-based laboratory activities ready for implementation. Working together with their respective science curriculum leaders, the participating teachers will facilitate the adoption of inquiry-based laboratory activities at their respective schools. They will receive continual support, mentoring, and collaboration from HU science faculty. They will also be provided opportunities to pursue research interests in collaboration with HU faculty researchers.

“The long term goal is to establish a multi-year professional development program for local precollege science teachers that will serve as a vehicle for promoting and supporting STEM education in precollege schools,” said Urasa.