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Cool Science comes to Kansas with $3M NSF grant

Friday, September 20, 2019

LAWRENCE — Since 2012, the Cool Science program has featured children’s artwork in public spaces in Massachusetts. Now youths in Kansas and Missouri will have the same opportunity.

Through a $3 million National Science Foundation grant, Cool Science is expanding to include partners in the Greater Kansas City area, Lawrence, Manhattan and Topeka. The goal is to test a new educational strategy to promote science learning in two very different parts of the country.

“It’s an exciting opportunity for Kansans,” said Steven Schrock, University of Kansas professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering and director of the University of Kansas Transportation Center. Schrock, one of the principal investigators on the project, is working with Claudia Bode, education director for the Center for Environmentally Beneficial Catalysis at KU.

Schrock and Bode became involved in Cool Science last summer when asked by Robert Chen, a professor of oceanography and interim dean of the University of Massachusetts Boston’s School for the Environment, and Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier, associate professor of education at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

Chen and Lohmeier launched Cool Science seven years ago with several scientists in Massachusetts. The program won awards and was honored by the White House as an exemplary project to improve climate literacy across a community. Because of its proven popularity and effective engagement with all ages, Chen and Lohmeier reached out to the KU researchers to expand the project.    

Together, the team aims to further explore the concept of intergenerational learning by determining much adults learn about extreme weather science from viewing youth art about the topic.

Each fall for the next three years, Cool Science will offer a contest for K-12 youths to submit art about extreme weather. The winning artwork will be displayed on buses in Topeka, Kansas City and two cities in Massachusetts. Regional art exhibitions will also celebrate the art. 

The team expects that roughly a thousand youths, hundreds of adult mentors and tens of thousands of bus riders will have the chance to learn about the science of extreme weather through the program each year.

“The general public often struggles to understand the science behind extreme weather events, like heat waves, violent storms and hurricanes,” said Schrock.  “This project will educate not just children, but also adults about these complex and disruptive weather phenomena.”

The Cool Science researchers will judge the youth art based on their scientific accuracy, visual appeal, clarity, originality and potential for engaging an audience. To help ensure scientific accuracy, the new grant includes training for adult mentors who work with children and teens in informal settings like afterschool programs in each of the four locations. 

Regional community partners include the Boys & Girls Club of Topeka, the Kansas Children’s Discovery Center, Science City at Union Station, the YMCA of Greater Kansas City, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and Topeka Metro. The research team includes faculty from KU, Kansas State University, the University of Massachusetts at Boston and Lowell, and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

Funding for this project is part of NSF’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, titled “Collaborative Research: Cool Science: Art as a Vehicle for Intergenerational Learning.”