published December 31, 1969

SENCER E-Newsletter, November 2004, Volume 4, Issue 3

Severe Weather Phenomena and Cancer, Genes, and the Environment Courses at The College of New Jersey

Professors Marty Becker, Danielle Dalafave, Bonnie Dixon, Marlene Kayne, Sharon Sherman and Dean Gail Simmons, The College of New Jersey

The College of New Jersey professors believe that in today's increasingly technological society there is a great need to raise scientific literacy in the general public. This calls for established standards in science education, so that today's students can assume their future roles as informed citizens. Science should be taught at all levels with appreciation of relationships among various scientific disciplines and the needs of society.

After attending the SENCER Summer Institute in 2003, faculty at The College of New Jersey applied this model in the development of science courses that integrate civic engagements and responsibilities. These courses encourage development of critical thinking skills regarding science topics, making decisions by analyzing data, understanding the nature and complexity of scientific problems, and articulating clearly ideas and reasoning.

Professors of science and education met regularly throughout the '03 - '04 academic year to plan the SENCER courses. Initially the courses would be offered to teacher education candidates preparing to teach students in elementary, early childhood or special education classrooms as well as students who are deaf and hard of hearing. In order to be highly qualified, these candidates need strong science backgrounds and must study physical, life and earth and space science topics.

The team decided that goals for the professor would include establishing a learning environment that supports engagement and inquiry, using discrepant events as a strategy for motivation, and creating an environment where questioning is encouraged and valued. Other goals include communicating science concepts to a diverse audience, employing strategies that foster communication among students, and using multiple assessment methods to improve teaching and learning.

The team decided that student goals would include understanding the nature of science and scientific thought, developing an understanding and working knowledge of science concepts, identifying and clarifying misconceptions about science, and recognizing that scientific theories develop over time, depend on the contributions of many people and reflect the social and political climate of their time. Using reference and research, exploring case studies from literature, reading and critiquing relevant scientific publications, making decisions, weighing evidence, and recognizing the merit of arguments are also important goals.

In the Fall of 2004 Professors Marty Becker and Danielle Dalafave from the Physics Department team taught a course titled "Severe Weather Phenomena: Thunderstorms, Tornadoes and Hurricanes", which they designed. Weather influences daily lives of millions of people worldwide. Severe weather phenomena, such as thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes can have devastating economic, health, and social effects.

The "Severe Weather Phenomena" course is geared toward prospective K-8 teachers. Through increasing proficiency in physics and meteorology, the course is designed to help future elementary school teachers to become motivators of children in science. Besides its scientific content, this course teaches the lab safety and fosters curiosity, open-mindedness, and honesty when collecting and interpreting findings.

The "Severe Weather Phenomena" is a one semester course with three lecture hours per week and two lab hours every other week. Selected topics in mechanics, optics, thermodynamics, and electromagnetism are used to elucidate phenomena in the meteorology. The course covers the following meteorology topics: weather, economy and society; earth shape; seasons; atmospheric stability; winds; air masses and fronts; thunderstorms; tornadoes; and hurricanes.

Designed and team taught by Professor Bonnie Dixon of the Chemistry Department and Professor Marlene Kayne of the Biology Department, "Genes, Cancer and the Environment" is another SENCER course being offered this semester.

The course covers concepts of chemistry, biology, biochemistry and genetics and consists of lecture and laboratory. In the laboratory students put scientific principles into practice. Laboratory reports give students a chance to work on clearly defining the results of several integrated experiments and discussing their findings in light of modern scientific principles. Students learn about various forms of cancer, attend community meetings and glean information for a pamphlet they create that has the newly-diagnosed patient in mind. They work in groups to write a case study focusing on a topic that can be categorized into one of the five areas of cancers being studied: colon; skin; lung; breast and prostate. The drug discovery paper ensures coverage of the topic remains positive as students research the popular literature for a new cancer treatment option. Professionals from The College of New Jersey's Municipal Land Use Center provide links to community resources, including guest speakers. The local branch of the American Cancer Society also provides resources for students.

The course covers the following topics: elements and bonding; three-dimensional structure of molecules; reactivity of organic molecules; metabolism and nutrition; DNA; structure and function of proteins; enzymes; cell cycle topics and genetics.

Currently a student in the Severe Weather Phenomena course, freshman Jenna Gnade says, "I feel as though I have been given the opportunity to expose myself to two divergent areas of science that are, in many ways, interrelated. It is within this course that I have learned a wide array of concepts ranging from severe weather conditions to the physics of everyday life. Not only do I consider myself more knowledgeable in the subject matter, but I find it easier to understand how and why how these natural occurrences take place in our own environment. Overall, my experience within the classroom has been a positive one. As a future teacher, I truly believe that it is essential to grasp a strong insight of the curriculum we teach. I am confident in saying that this course will have prepared me to introduce various scientific issues in an effective manner within my own classroom."

We are always interested to hear about the progress of our SENCER colleagues, especially news of grant support for increased SENCER work. We are happy to help support your efforts in any way that we can. Please let us know of developments in your work and we will share your news with the SENCER community. You may e-mail Patti Simon at with your reports and requests.