'RevISEd' science education

NSF grant to support innovative course for science, math education majors


1:07 p.m., Sept. 21, 2012--First-year science and mathematics education majors at the University of Delaware will soon have the option to engage in an integrated seven-credit course that combines elements of math, science, technology and communication.

Funded by a $198,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, the first-year experience — to be introduced in fall 2013 — will utilize the new Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Laboratory (ISE Lab) classrooms, designed specifically for the kinds of problem-based learning that would distinguish this new curriculum.

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“Our goal is to offer the next generation of teachers new models and innovative training experiences,” said Stephen Bernhardt, writing professor and the grant’s principal investigator. “A rich first-year experience will set students on track by engaging them with important questions, offering them important tools and helping them develop strong habits of communication.”

The new curriculum would replace traditional lecture formats with problem-based and peer-led learning exercises that would instead focus on “big questions and understandings in math and science.” Trained peer tutors will facilitate the learning teams.

For instance, a sample physics problem would introduce students to the principles of forces, motion and energy by having them reconstruct a two-dimensional model of an automobile accident. 

Another project — “the Bubble Board” — would have students create identical soap bubbles, monitor the time at which they pop, vary their experiment (such as varying the soap solution), and adjust different mathematical models to analyze and predict the behavior of the bubble system. 

The course would also integrate writing and communication, with students producing a variety of written documents, from progress reports, findings and recommendations, to potential solutions and final proposals.

Ultimately, the revised curriculum seeks to “reverse engineer” secondary science and mathematics education for the 160-plus students currently enrolled in the program. 

“Instead of piecing together a program by picking existing courses from various departments, we would like to begin by asking what science educators need to know about the discipline, what tools and technologies they need, and what speaking and writing skills they require,” Bernhardt explained. 

Over the next year, an interdisciplinary team of UD faculty members will work with high school educators in the region to design and implement the new curriculum. 

The team will be led by Bernhardt, Kirkpatrick Chair in Writing, and co-principal investigators Alfinio Flores, Hollowell Professor of Mathematics Education, and Harry Shipman, Annie Jump Cannon Professor of Astronomy. 

Other team members include: John Pelesko, chair and professor of the Department of Mathematical Sciences; John Madsen, associate professor of geological sciences; and Kathryn Scantlebury, chemistry professor and director of secondary education. Joan Buttram, assistant professor of education and director of the Delaware Education Research and Development Center, will provide leadership on project assessment and learning outcomes.

Article by Artika Rangan Casini

Photo by Kathy F. Atkinson

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