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DOE Program Helps City Kids Take Advantage of Renown Scientific Institutions

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A program that gets middle school science teachers out of their classrooms and into the city's famous scientific institutions has now trained more than 1,100 educators, and the teachers say it's their students who are really benefiting. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

As seventh graders so often do, Selin Kubali recently got into a passionate debate with a friend—in their case, over which subway line was the dirtiest. Then, through her science class, Selin set out to discover the actual answer.

"I went to each subway and swabbed it was a sterile cotton swab and then I got a Petri dish, swabbed it onto a Petri dish and let the Petri dish grow for a week and did it three times for each line," says Kubali.

That's the kind of hands-on scientific work that education officials say they'd love to see every student doing—but it's also a major challenge for teachers to structure and manage.

A decade ago the city started a program called Urban Advantage, designed to train science teachers so they can train the next generation of scientists.

"It allows for teachers to really customize their interests and to really take it at the level they are most comfortable with, to introduce topics of science exploration in their classrooms," says Sephali Thakkar, a science teacher at Columbia Secondary School.

The training happens through partnerships between schools and eight of the city's scientific cultural institutions, including the Bronx Zoo, the Queens Botanical Garden and the American Museum of Natural History.

"Whatever the challenges of an urban location might be, we have one fantastic advantage and it's the magnificent array of cultural, scientific, academic institutions," says American Museum of Natural History President Ellen V. Futter.

Now, as Urban Advantage turns ten, its goals to develop teachers and partner schools with cultural institutions may sound familiar.

That's because these are two areas Chancellor Carmen Fariña is focused on, which makes sense, since she helped start the program in 2004, when she was a deputy chancellor.

But back to Selin's project—of the four subway lines she studied, which has the most bacteria?

"The C line was dirtiest, the A line was the second dirtiest, and the 1 and the 3 lines were tied for cleanest," Kubali says.

That's some dirty—yet useful—science.

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