SENCER E-Newsletter, February 2007, Volume 6, Issue 5
Highlights from the Second SENCER New England Regional Symposium
Brian Hagenbuch, SENCER Senior Associate - Holyoke Community College
How well are we preparing students and future teachers in science and math literacy? This question underscored conversations and presentations at the second SENCER New England Regional Symposium held at Springfield College on January 11th. The event was attended by more than 50 faculty, administrators, and students from 27 institutions (15 new to SENCER) representing all six New England states.
Alumni tackled the question head on by sharing the challenges and rewards of their SENCER work. Vincent Breslin of Southern Connecticut State University presented an interdisciplinary course that focused on relevant societal topics of concern along the Connecticut coast - hurricanes, contaminated sediment, and climate change. General education students enrolled in his Honors course embarked on a semester of "doing science" in the field and laboratory and contributed to the knowledge base of the region. Marissa Cloutier of Hillyer College and the University of Hartford presented their response to the obesity crisis - in the form of a 2006 SENCER Emerging Model. Students in this course examined their own lifestyle habits, then worked with elementary school students to prepare wellness reports linking nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle issues in a comprehensive "Make-A-Difference" project.
The University of Southern Maine, hosts for the next SENCER Summer Institute, brought a contingent of three faculty and two students to the Symposium and presented three SENCER Honors courses that connect science and civic engagement. Focused on interdisciplinary environmental and health themes, the models incorporated peer-led learning and student web designs as approaches to teaching. While many schools discussed the challenges with adapting SENCER courses at their own schools, Ellen Faszewski from Wheelock College took the challenges a step further by discussing efforts of faculty across different institutions (the Colleges of the Fenway) to develop and teach a SENCER model course on the environment (see featured article in the first volume of the Science and Civic Engagement: An International Journal).
Three schools also presented SENCER "works-in-progress." Springfield College showcased ongoing efforts to engage students in first or second year general education science courses by involving faculty from four different departments within the College to enlist student mentors in a peer-led learning model. Fred Rogers and Frank Hubacz of Franklin Pierce College discussed efforts to revitalize integrated science courses using the thematic approach of evolution and the SALG assessment instrument. The final presentation was from Patricia Overdeep at Johnson & Wales University in Rhode Island. Although not a previous SENCER institution, Overdeep was glad to find a venue for her Children's Germ Crusade model, which links microbiology students with elementary school students to provide hands-on training in the importance of good personal hygiene, safe food handling practices, and the spread of infectious diseases.
In the afternoon plenary, Adrienne Wootters and Michael Ganger from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and David Burns, Executive Director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement engaged the audience in a deeper conversation about what constitutes adequate preparation for students and pre-service teachers alike. Each discussed the inherent structural and conceptual problems in contemporary STEM education and proposed basic, yet far-reaching solutions. In conference evaluations, several participants stated that the plenary made them think about things they had not thought of before. One person thought the Plenary presented strategic ideas on how to address the issues. Another added that, "The plenary session on science education provided a wonderful forum to discuss national frameworks, teacher preparation programs and general education."
Concurrent sessions following the plenary stimulated more intimate dialogue on topics such as civic engagement and service learning, the next steps for SENCER, pre-service teacher preparation initiatives, and developing proposals for the next summer institute.
So how well are we preparing our students and future teachers? If the presentations at the regional symposium are any indication, SENCER faculty are revolutionizing approaches to teaching and learning. Throughout the day, common themes included employing inquiry-based learning in the lab and field, making direct connections to real world issues, engaging students in alternative approaches to learning through peer-led models, redefining the basic underlying assumptions of scientific literacy, and emphasizing communication as an effective tool for active learning.
The energy and enthusiasm of educators from new schools not yet involved in the SENCER initiative combined with the expertise, experience, and inspiration of alumni schools made a wonderfully productive experience for all who attended. One commenter said that, "I think our regional meetings are so successful because of their size. The intimate environment allows for wonderful opportunities to share ideas, network, and discuss the issues surrounding science education."