Innovative program is shown to improve student interest and achievement in science


New York, NY – June 24, 2003 –Columbia University’s Summer Research Program for Secondary School Science Teachers has received a four-year $432,920 grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).  The grant was one of 19 community science education grants awarded by HHMI from more than 100 applicants and was the only grant issued to a biomedical institution in the New York metropolitan area.

“These grants enable HHMI to encourage our colleagues at biomedical research centers to share the content and excitement of their research in novel ways with a broad array of the public,” said Peter Bruns, HHMI vice president for grants and special programs. “The funded projects include formal and informal education as well as research experiences for students at many levels, from a variety of social and educational backgrounds.”

            Columbia’s Summer Research Program for Secondary School Science Teachers engages science teachers in hands-on laboratory research for two consecutive summers under the mentorship of a member of Columbia’s faculty. The program’s premise is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to teach science as a dynamic subject without experience with its practice and its practitioners.

            Samuel C. Silverstein, M.D., John C. Dalton Professor of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons, founded the program in 1990.  “My purpose in initiating this program was, and remains, to improve interest and achievement in science for New York City students,” says Dr. Silverstein.  “In 1993, we began to evaluate the impact of this program, and I am pleased to say that our studies show that teacher participation in Columbia’s Summer Research Program has measurable beneficial effects on student interest and achievement in science.”

Dr. Silverstein and his colleagues, with assistance from the New York City Department of Education’s Division of Assessment and Accountability and from the Assistant Principals for Science at the high schools in which participants in the program teach, collected data on approximately 30,000 high school students in the science classes of teachers who participated in the program and on approximately 600,000 students in the science classes of non-participating teachers in the same schools. The researchers measured student interest in science by looking at student participation in science competitions, after school science clubs, or other extra-curricular science activities.  They measured student achievement in science by test results from the New York State Regents Examinations in science. 

            The researchers found a three-fold increase in the number of students of participating teachers who undertake a competitive science project.  The number of students participating in after school science programs increased from 10.1 percent to 13.1 percent in the classes of participating teachers, while the average in classes of non-participating teachers remained about the same at 3.5 percent.  Perhaps most impressively, the researchers found a significant increase in the number of students of participating teachers who pass the New York State Regents Exam in science.

            “Our studies convince us that hands-on science work experiences for science teachers are as essential to their training and professional development as educators as hospital residencies are to the training and professional development of physicians,” says Dr. Silverstein. “We are pleased to receive this grant from HHMI to help us continue this important program.”


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