SENCER E-Newsletter, January/February 2004, Volume 2, Issue 6
The University of Cincinnati CoNSEPTS Project - By: Linda Plevyak
A team of A&S and Education faculty from the University of Cincinnati (UC) attended the SENCER Summer Institute in Santa Clara August 2003. This article is meant to convey events prior to SENCER that encouraged us to apply, how SENCER helped us toward our goals, and what we have accomplished since attending the SSI 2003.
Accomplishments Before SENCER
A year before the summer institute a UC Faculty Learning Community (FLC) was created primarily because of the persistent concern over recruiting, retaining, and preparing future teachers in mathematics and science. The shortage of qualified science and math teachers is a national issue. As such, the UC team felt a need to collaborate on how to ensure that the students leaving UC's program are properly prepared to teach science and mathematics.
The establishment of the Center of New Science/Math Education Programs for Today's Society (CoNSEPTS) evolved from the FLC created in summer 2002. CoNSEPTS consists of A&S and Education faculty who are collaborating on science course development in Biology, Chemistry, Geology, and Physics. During January 2003, CoNSEPTS faculty realized the value to be obtained from participating in the SENCER Summer Institute, and thus submitted our application with two major goals:
(1) to "SENCERize" the science courses offered in A&S for Preservice Teachers and General Education, and
(2) to develop student learning communities of early childhood (grades PreK-3), middle school (grades 4-9), and secondary (10-12) preservice teachers who take science courses together, and bridge their understanding of science content with education methodology.
The Value of SENCER
Having the opportunity to spend quality time interacting with different travel teams who are working on similar course development, attending plenary sessions, and being allowed concentrated "team time" was a valuable part of the SENCER Summer Institute. The SENCER travel team from UC was able to gain needed assistance in how to incorporate civic issues into our science courses, as well as develop relationships with other SENCER members that provided further insight into our own SENCER goals.
Accomplishments After SENCER
Attendance at SENCER enabled us to pursue these goals upon our return home by:
(1) pilot testing a small group of preservice teachers in a biology course called "Genetics and Society" during fall 2003 into which a number of SENCER goals were incorporated. From this experience, in fall 2004, a group of Early Childhood Education (ECE) (approx. 50) and middle school (approx. 40) preservice teachers will take newly created Earth Science and Physics by Inquiry courses together. The cohort structure and its interdisciplinary development fit neatly with many of the process ideals of the SENCER project.
(2) obtaining approval for the early childhood pre-service teachers to take 12 credits of science, and the middle school pre-service teachers to take 40 credits in earth science, biology, physics and chemistry. A major emphasis within the four science areas is to prepare PreK-12 pre-service teachers with science content that serves as the focus of National and State Science Standards. Each course syllabus will connect to specific benchmarks within the standards and promote assignments, discussions, and course activities that focus on what the pre-service teachers will be ultimately teaching themselves. Effective pedagogy will be modeled, and discussions on bridging how science is learned to how science is taught will also be emphasized within each of the science courses.
It is also a goal of CoNSEPTS to include non-science majors in these science courses. The science courses will highlight the process of science inquiry and the nature of science. They will reinforce the SENCER approach to learning through a focus on "unsolved public issues." Students will become involved with their learning by demonstrating the importance of science in their daily lives, to show how science relates to and is embedded in societal issues, and to help students think as scientists as they approach these issues.
Context Within the University
As UC is a Research Extensive institution, teaching can often take a backseat to research. However, there have been some recent developments that may significantly affect science-teaching reform in a positive way. UC has created the Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning (CET&L) within the Provost's office, established CoNSEPTS jointly supported by the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S) and the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH), and recently sent for state approval a proposal to create a new MS degree titled Master of Science in Teaching (MST). The in-service teachers participating in this MS program may also take some of the science courses with the pre-service teachers, but there will also be courses developed specifically for the MST graduate students.
The establishment of CET&L, CoNSEPTS, and the MST proposal are all works in progress but with considerable promise. In fall 2003 CoNSEPTS held a meeting with the provost, deans of A&S and CECH, science department heads and other faculty to promote ideas about integrating science and education. The idea for this meeting was developed the last day of the SENCER Summer Institute. There was positive feedback from the majority of administrators so that over time we anticipate CoNSEPTS will find the funding needed to hire additional faculty who have joint appointments in science departments and the education college (currently, there is one faculty member who has a joint appointment between the Chemistry and Teacher Education Departments). Assessment is an essential component of this effort, and is already viewed as integral to the ultimate success of these activities.
As part of these ongoing efforts, Jay Labov and Richard Keeling, who were substantial assets at the SENCER Summer Institute, have been invited to present a workshop at UC this spring. We are currently organizing plenary sessions where Jay and Richard can speak to UC faculty, high school science teachers, and faculty from other local universities. We anticipate they will help convince faculty to use different types of pedagogy such as cooperative or problem-based learning, and reinforce the importance of student engagement, emphasizing national standards, focusing on how science relates to students' lives, and the critical nature of preparing students for a life that is surrounded by science.
CoNSEPTS is also trying to reach beyond UC to emphasize the SENCER model at the regional level. A&S and CECH Faculty from CoNSEPTS gave a presentation entitled "Infusing Civic Engagement & Responsibilities into Your Science Classrooms" at the Lilly Conference in November 2003 at Miami University, the presentation being based upon our experience at SENCER. CoNSEPTS faculty have also presented at the Ohio Project Conference, a state program for improving science education. Another collaborative effort is the connection with the Southwest Center for Excellence in Science Education. The Center receives funding through the Ohio Board of Regents and has ties to local universities.
The faculty involved with CoNSEPTS feel there has been definite advancement of the goals we set in August at the SENCER workshop. The momentum is building to SENCERize science courses, establish the science courses being taken by PreK-12 pre-service teachers, increase faculty participation in CoNSEPTS, contribute to the MST program, and find additional financial support. The CoNSEPTS team is excited and enthused about the positive direction that has been taken over the past two years. SENCER's support and guidance is contributing significantly to the success of this endeavor. For more information, contact Carl Huether, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The SENCER summer workshop allowed us the opportunity to come together and share our ideas about where we wanted to go, continue in the pursuit of our goals, and brought us closer together as a team.