U.Va. Professors Moon and Brighton Get $2.2M to Develop STEM-Focused Curriculum for Elementary School Students

October 23, 2008 -- University of Virginia faculty members Tonya Moon and Catherine Brighton, associate professors in the Curry School of Education, have received a $2.2 million grant to improve minority representation in gifted programs and to interest those students in math and science.

Their study, Project Parallax, is being funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program.

The study is designed to increase the identification of gifted elementary school students from under-represented groups and to provide a more innovative focus on science, technology, engineering and math — or STEM.

"This project is extraordinarily important as it addresses a critical issue for educational and economic concerns — the development of talent in mathematics, science, technology and engineering," said Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School.

"Catherine Brighton and Tonya Moon are particularly well-suited to direct this effort with their years of experience in talent development in schools. It is critically important that, as a nation, we figure out how to develop this talent."

Despite decades of effort, students from culturally, linguistically and socio-economically diverse backgrounds are under-represented in gifted programs, Moon said. In addition, elementary school teachers are the least prepared to challenge students in STEM areas. 

Through Project Parallax, Moon and Brighton will develop challenging, problem-based learning units to meet the diverse learning needs of these students. They will also work with teachers to increase their ability to provide stimulating curricula and to develop a variety of teaching methods to meet the needs of the gifted children.

Moon and Brighton will randomly select five elementary schools in which they will work through the initiatives of this project. They believe that creating a leadership team of teachers to serve as trainers for other teachers in their district is a key to long-term success.

Henry County School District, located in south-central Virginia, has been chosen to be the host county for all of the elementary schools participating in the study.

“This is an exceptional opportunity to be part of a model that can build long-term capacity in providing challenging STEM content for all our students," said Superintendent Sharon Dodson. “This type of problem-based learning is a cornerstone of the 21st century learning skills our students will need to be competitive in the world’s future economy. We are excited to be selected to partner with the Curry School.”

The study will take place from now until the end of September 2013.