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America’s Lab Report: Investigations in High School Science
schools in Appalachia and southern Virginia to design and evaluate a series of laboratory experiments aligned with the chemistry SOLs. The following summer, a team of VPI staff, including two chemistry teachers, a lab technician, and an administrative assistant, led the first of a continuing series of summer workshops to train teachers on the experiments and instrumentation available on the van. The VPI team also developed kits of chemistry experiments that did not require advanced instrumentation and began mailing them to rural schools.
Chemistry teachers and students at 19 rural Virginia high schools and two inner-city Richmond schools conducted the experiments included in the mobile van four times during the academic year and also received four to six chemistry kits for each of three years, beginning in the 2001-2002 school year. During the summers, more than 63 teachers were trained in leading the experiments included on the van. Before the mobile van program was initiated, students in these 19 schools performed on average 15.6 percent lower than the state average on the chemistry SOL. In 2003, the average among these 19 schools was 1.2 points above the state average, with particularly large gains in two inner-city Richmond schools with large minority populations. Attendance also improved on the days the mobile van was present, but without a comparison group it is not possible to know whether the mobile van or other factors may have accounted for the improvements in test scores and attendance (Long, 2004). However, the Virginia Tech program, which relied on a combination of federal, corporate, private, and university grants—could not be sustained and was ended in the summer of 2004.
The Virginia program was modeled on the Science in Motion program of Juniata College that serves rural schools in Pennsylvania. An independent evaluation of the Juniata program conducted in 1999 found statistically significant gains in biology and chemistry achievement test scores among students served by the program when compared with students in schools without access to the program (Mulfinger, 2004).
Providing Student Internships
Scientists have provided laboratory internships to high school students for many years. One scientist who involved high school students in a 1955 summer program in the departments of biochemistry and physiological chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, described them as “enthusiastic, hard-working and intelligent laboratory assistants—well worth the time and cost of training” (Pardee, 1956, p. 725). Scientific agencies and foundations, as well as individual science departments, support such programs. For example, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute provides funding for high school students and teachers in the Montgomery County, Maryland, public