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Tej Dalvi and her portable Maker Studio Image by: Colleen Locke
November 3, 2017

UMass Boston professor receives grants to spark interest in science


  • Boston

Open Tej Dalvi’s door and immediately, you’ll see hers is not a typical faculty office. Dalvi, an assistant professor of science education and faculty at COSMIC, has shelves full of toys and crafts and a clothing rack full of portable Makerspaces—bags containing items designed to inspire young creators and budding scientists.

Dalvi is a physicist by training, with a PhD in theoretical condensed matter. Now in her second year at UMass Boston, she trains education students in the most effective methods for teaching science and math in elementary schools. But she also is interested in researching and learning how elementary-aged students understand physics.

“I wanted to know, how do kids learn while doing engineering?” Dalvi said. “I wanted to bring that hands-on component in the classroom and tie it to science inquiry and meaning making—to get my teaching and research talking to one another.”

Dalvi and her co-principal investigators applied for and received three different National Science Foundation grants centered on helping teachers teach science.

ConnecTions in the Making: Elementary Students, Teachers, and STEM Professionals Integrating Science and Engineering to Design ($388,170)

Dalvi is the principal investigator on this project, which has her and a collaborator at Tufts University working with the MBTA and public-school teachers in Boston and Marlborough.

This summer, the Marlborough and Boston teachers formed a design squad. Working with college mechanical engineering students, they developed a prototype system to stop flooding in the Fenway MBTA portal.

“The big idea is to have the teachers work as real engineers and have authentic engineering experiences,” Dalvi said. “Teachers don’t need to be engineers, but they need to have a flavor.”

Dalvi has been working with the teachers to repackage, adapt, and implement their elementary curriculum units based on what they learned.

“We sat down and we wrote everything together. We had intensive discussion and writing sessions. We had a whole week dedicated for curriculum development at BPS and Marlborough Public Schools,” Dalvi said.

The goal is to create three units that serve as a national model for integrating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) into third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms. By the time the grant ends in spring 2020, 18 teachers will have participated in the project.

Integrating Science Content and Engineering Thinking in the Elementary Classroom ($1,127,305)

Dalvi is working with UMass Boston professors and co-investigators Lisa Gonsalves, Patricia Paugh, and Matthew Bell to help students in UMass Boston’s Teach Next Year program teach and integrate STEM content into elementary classes. Teach Next Year is a way for students to earn their master’s degrees in education and Massachusetts initial teacher licensure in 12 months while doing their practicum in Boston schools.

Through COSMIC, Dalvi brought in high school interns this summer to co-teach a robotics workshop to these elementary school teachers in training. She has other workshops planned throughout the year, covering 3D printing, circuits, and coding. The overall goal of the grant, which runs through 2022, is to recruit and prepare STEM professionals to be highly qualified elementary teachers for urban schools.

Nano-Makerspace to Make and Explore in the World of the Small ($297,124)

Dalvi has just started working on this two-year grant with Assistant Professor of Engineering Matthew Bell. The grant will fund the creation of mobile nanospaces at Framingham High School. The researchers will then conduct an assessment to see if this work changes students’ attitudes toward STEM.