Archive for January, 2015

UMaine Awarded $150,000 Grant for Food, Agriculture Research, WABI Reports

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

WABI (Channel 5) reported the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture have awarded a $150,000 research grant to the University of Maine to help fund the university’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. The project aims to develop a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) method to better understand food-borne pathogens, according to the report. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King announced the award in a press release. “Federal funding is crucial to supporting our university system and this announcement is great news for the University of Maine. Their continued exemplary research and the advancements these programs produce are an important contribution to the Maine economy,” the senators said in a joint statement. The full release is online.

Smith’s Research Hot Topic for ScienceInsider

Thursday, January 29th, 2015
active learning with Michelle SmithTop 10 lists are compiled annually — last year there were lists for best books, Seinfeld characters, movies and restaurants. In 2014, an article about a University of Maine professor’s research made a best-read list.

Michelle Smith, assistant professor in the School of Biology and Ecology, co-authored a paper about teaching approaches.

Aleszu Bajak penned “Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds,” for ScienceInsider about the research that Smith and others conducted with lead author Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle. The piece was ScienceInsider’s third most popular of the year, just behind pieces on plagiarism and Ebola.

The researchers re-analyzed 225 studies that compared grades of students enrolled in undergraduate science, engineering and mathematics courses taught in a typical lecture format with the grades of students in STEM courses that utilized active learning methods.

Freeman, Smith and others found students in classes that incorporated active learning techniques were 1.5 times more likely to pass than those in traditional lecture format classes. In addition, they found students in active learning sections earned grades nearly one-half a standard deviation higher, or, for example, a B rather than a B-, than students listening to a lecturer.

The well-read study, “Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics,” was published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

In Bajak’s ScienceInsider article about the study, Harvard University physicist Eric Mazur was quoted saying the research is important and that “it’s almost unethical to be lecturing if you have this data.”

He continued, “It’s good to see such a cohesive picture emerge from their meta-analysis — an abundance of proof that lecturing is outmoded, outdated, and inefficient.”

Also in December, Smith and Farahad Dastoor, lecturer of biological sciences, were highlighted in a National Science Foundation story titled “Rules of engagement: Transforming the teaching of college-level science.”

Thanks to Smith and Dastoor, 800 UMaine students in three introductory biology sections utilize clickers (response devices) and engage in small group conversations rather than sitting and listening to information dispensed by a “sage on a stage.” Smith “is helping to re-envision science education on her campus as well as across the country,” says the article.

In 2013, Smith became principal investigator on four projects and co-principal investigator on another that were granted $6.8 million in total funding from the National Science Foundation; UMaine’s portion was $1,012,269. The projects are aimed at improving nationwide science instruction and assessments. The studies are collaborative with other universities and involve UMaine administrators, faculty, postdoctoral and graduate students, undergraduates and area K–12 teachers.

Contact: Beth Staples 207.581.3777

Capps Part of Mexican Stream Ecology Collaboration to Study Urban Rivers

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Krista Capps, a research assistant professor in the University of Maine Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Conservation Biology, is leading a project that aims to provide the foundation for greater understanding of urban rivers in developing countries.

The project, “Mexican Urban Stream Ecology Collaboration (MUSE),” received a $60,690 grant from the National Science Foundation for initial data gathering in Mexico.

Much of what scientists know about the influence of urbanization on stream ecology comes from studying rivers and streams in countries such as the United States and Australia, according to the researchers. However, urban rivers in developing economies may be used by humans for sources of untreated drinking water, direct conduits for sewage and freshwater fisheries.

Understanding how biological communities and processes are affected by increasing urbanization is essential to correctly manage urban watersheds in developing regions, the researchers say.

MUSE will bring together stream ecologists and fish biologists from the United States and Mexico to begin to understand the links among urbanization, stream ecology, and freshwater fisheries in southern Mexico.

The researchers say they hope the project initiates a new collaboration that will generate knowledge and resources for scientists and natural resource managers.