CU-Boulder Science Education Project Launched By Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman And Several Campus Departments

March 20, 2006

A new Science Education Project at the University of Colorado at Boulder created and directed by Distinguished Professor and Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman will incorporate research findings on effective science instruction in the classrooms of four CU-Boulder science departments beginning this fall.

The Science Education Project was introduced in a news conference today announcing Wieman's move to the University of British Columbia, where he also will head a science education program at UBC that will work collaboratively with CU-Boulder's. Assistant Professor Kathy Perkins, of the CU-Boulder physics department, has worked closely with Wieman to develop the Science Education Project and will direct the project at CU-Boulder on a day-to-day basis after he moves to UBC in January 2007.

The Science Education Project will oversee the science instruction programs of CU's four participating departments and will assist faculty through networking and resource materials. The four participating departments in the first stage of the project include: geological sciences; molecular, cellular and developmental biology; chemistry and biochemistry; and integrative physiology.

"This project is devoted to helping departments introduce exciting research-based teaching methods throughout the academic department's entire undergraduate curriculum," Wieman said. "If
things go as planned, the Science Education Project
eventually will expand to involve all nine of CU-Boulder's
natural science departments -- reaching all students
who take science at CU-Boulder."

Interim Provost Susan Avery said, "The mission of
the center is to support faculty and departments as
they move toward basing instruction on careful measurement
of student learning and effective science teaching
methods. We believe this approach to science education
at the university level will enhance student understanding
in all of the sciences and make our science instructional
programs more effective."

CU-Boulder Interim Chancellor Phil DiStefano and CU President Hank Brown have committed $1 million annually for five years to fund the Science Education Project, which builds on the previous work of Wieman, the physics education research group, and several other CU-Boulder researchers committed to improving science education. They include Bill Wood in MCD biology; Jim Curry and Mary Nelson in applied math; Noah Finkelstein and Steve Pollock in physics; Carl Lineberger in chemistry; and Lorrie Shephard in education.

Key components of the Science Education Project include:

o Establishment, by departmental consensus, of explicit learning goals for each course, followed by creation of effective ways to measure how well students are attaining the goals.

o Implementation of teaching practices that are based on research on how people learn science, and are tested by careful measurement.

o Much greater use of technology to improve educational
effectiveness and efficiency. Examples include software
for Web-based distribution of course materials, faculty-student
communication, interactive simulations and the effective
use of "clickers." Clickers are electronic handheld
devices that provide instant feedback to the faculty
member about what students understand. Clickers are
in use in all large physics classes at CU-Boulder
and their use is rapidly spreading throughout campus,
with more than 40 courses using clickers in 2005-06.

o Sharing and reuse of proven teaching materials and methods through utilization of archiving technology. When guided by careful assessment of student learning, this will allow teaching practices and materials to be continuously enhanced and improved over time.

"Earlier education efforts on campus include STEM-Colorado, a collaborative science teacher preparation program involving the School of Education and the natural science departments," Wieman
said. STEM-Colorado employs undergraduates as learning
assistants to improve introductory math and science
classes and to recruit and train future K-12 science
teachers. It is supported by the National Science Foundation
and headed by Assistant Professor Valerie Otero of
education and Emeritus Professor Richard McCray of
astrophysical and planetary sciences.

The physics department has introduced technology and research-proven interactive teaching practices into all of its introductory courses, making them more effective and engaging for students. Those changes have been recognized through several education awards, including the naming of Wieman as the 2004 Carnegie-CASE Professor of the Year and Michael Dubson as the recipient of the 2006 American Association of Physics Teacher's award for excellence in undergraduate teaching.

For information on the Science Education Project call (303) 492-7746. For information on Wieman's ongoing Physics Education Technology Project, go to phet.colorado.edu.

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