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HP Science Partners

As part of the initial process under HP’s Hands-on Science grants, the HP Science Partners Program recruits HP scientists on a volunteer basis to help their local school districts and the teachers plan a K-6 elementary science program that is hands-on and inquiry-oriented. Once a grant has been received and a plan for reform adopted, Science Partners help support changes in the school system in a variety of ways.

Individual Roles for Science Partners in a school system that has its K-6 science education reform plan well in hand can include

  • science advisor
  • science mentor
  • materials refurbishment advisors
  • computer/networking advisors

Science partners who are science advisors participate in teacher in-service workshops and may also provide technical support via e-mail and phone. Science advisors for teachers team up with a grade-level teaching team and play a key role in teacher training and support for new curriculum. Some of the ways science advisors help is by providing expertise in areas such as the science content of new hands-on science kits, suggesting ways to integrate the various science themes with the rest of the curriculum, helping teachers understand the scientific method, and assisting in building connections between the curriculum and “real world” applications of science and math. In Palo Alto, for example, volunteers are assigned to individual science kits in use by the district, and they participate in the district’s teacher training days.

Science partners who are science mentors work in the classroom with a specific unit of instruction. (Some of these are known as visiting scientists, who present a single lesson on a topic of their expertise related to the science curriculum). Science mentors play a key role in assisting students as they explore science, by facilitating groups of students in the classroom while they conduct experiments, or by helping to lead science clubs or science-related activities after school. Science mentors see themselves as modeling for students who scientists are and how they think. They also help students see connections between the science and math curriculum and real world applications.

Science partners can also be business or materials refurbishment advisors who assist with science materials inventory management and help to refurbish used kits. These advisors help school systems establish and maintain centers that have effective warehousing and replenishment systems for hands-on science kits. These volunteers are specifically skilled in warehousing, purchasing, and distribution.

Finally, science partners who are computer/networking advisors provide technical advice to schools as they network computers and get “on line” to the Internet. For example, volunteers from HP’s Corporate Networking Services have provided networking consulting to the local Smart Valley effort, a non-profit that is helping schools get on-line through efforts with local industry, such as Net Day and PC Day. In addition, HP Science Partners are supporting nine schools around the country that received $12,000 grants of web server hardware from HP and software from Microsoft through HP’s Access the Internet Program.

Schools Where Science Partners Are Active. At present, approximately 300 HP Science Partners are active in nine school districts in California: Redwood City, Menlo Park City, Ravenswood, Palo Alto Unified, Mountain View, Whisman, Cupertino Union, Santa Clara, and Newark. All of the employee-volunteers use 4 hours per month of paid leave allowed by the HP work-release rules. About one-third of these volunteers use additional personal and/or flex time to contribute to these initiatives.

Science Partners Recruitment sessions stress key messages such as

  • every child’s future depends on basic science literacy
  • the sustainable profitability of our businesses requires this basic science literacy on the part of all children
  • 55% of all 17-year-olds cannot compute with fractions
  • fewer than 10% of all high school students take high school physics
  • 25% of the nation’s high-school students drop out before graduation
  • only 25% of the nation’s high-school students graduate from college

Recruiters for HP Science Partners state the following about how students benefit from the program:

  • teachers come to know more about science
  • volunteers provide connections between the curriculum and the real world
  • volunteers provide career awareness early
  • volunteers lower the student/adult ratio; students receive more personalized attention
  • students meet real people who use science every day; volunteers act as role models

Recruiters for HP Science Partners state the following about how volunteers benefit from the program:

  • they have fun
  • stress is reduced
  • they learn new skills
  • they experience the joy of giving
  • they get a sense of self-satisfaction from making a significant, lasting improvement in science education
  • they rediscover that there’s more to life than going to work
  • they realize once again that children are our future

Finally, recruiters for HP Science Partners state the following about how industry benefits from the program:

  • employee participation increases morale and develops professional job skills
  • the program increases the pipeline of scientifically literate future employees, customers, and policy makers
  • great schools create great communities, which attract talented new employees
  • the program increases visibility for HP products and services

Where Science Partners Works Best. HP has found that the Science Partners program works best in school districts where

  • The district is engaged in district-wide math/science education reform, with the objective of measurably improving math and science achievement.
  • Science Partners are welcomed as integral members of the teaching team, meaning that they have the full backing of the school board, the district administration, and the teaching staff.
  • Curriculum and materials are in place to support inquiry-based, hands-on science learning by the students.
  • Time is allocated for the staff to meet with their Science Partners and participate in training their Science Partners.
  • Science Partner coordinators exist at each school site to facilitate communication and planning.

Science Partners Training. HP has also found that training is essential, both of volunteers and of teachers. Science partner training can include attending informational meetings that outline the school district’s goals, school site visits, and classroom observations.

When a partner has been assigned to a teacher, an initial planning visit is scheduled, during which the new partners have a chance to clarify roles and expectations, understand each other’s educational goals, preview the science curriculum, and learn more about school policies and procedures, as needed. HP stresses that it is important for the HP partner to learn as much as he or she can about the teacher’s interest and expectations. HP also expects HP program coordinators to informally monitor relationships, formally visit each school once a quarter, and not be afraid to re-assign volunteers as needed.

Science Partners who work directly with students receive an HP primer on child development, age-appropriate activities, the philosophy of inquiry-based hands-on learning, and classroom management issues, such as behavior control. The partners also apprentice for awhile with a more experienced Science Partner.

Extra Touches. The HP Science Partners program has learned that volunteers need to celebrate their work and their success. Some of the ways the program has done this is by giving volunteers identifying T-shirts, or personalized thank-you letters, with cc's to the volunteer’s manager.

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