Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

It Takes a Village to Make a Scientist: Reflections of a Faculty Learning Community

Academic journal article Journal of College Science Teaching

It Takes a Village to Make a Scientist: Reflections of a Faculty Learning Community

Article excerpt

As scientists and postsecondary science teachers, we may have difficulty accepting that many students soon leave their science major because they find science classes--and, by association, science itself--lacking engagement, creativity, and meaning (Eccles, 2005; Tobias, 1990). How can that be? Seymour and Hewitt (1997), in an extensive study of why undergraduates leave the sciences, wrote: "One serious cause of loss of interest was disappointment with the perceived narrowness of their [science, math and engineering] majors as an educational experience ... " (p. 180). Introductory science courses are too often taught via lecture and directive laboratory experiences where students merely follow directions to achieve an already well-established conclusion. Schaefer (1990, p. 4) noted that the "science professoriate [has] a comfortable 'elsewhere' focus, for advocating K-12 reforms rather than coming to grips with the hemorrhaging of the student pipeline that occurs during the college years."

Enthusiastic teachers, relevant content, active engagement of students, inquiry experiences, and discussion of science and science-related careers are all important for highly effective science teaching (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and assist in retaining science majors (Oakes, 1990; Woolnough, 1994). Active learning has been singled out as a key aspect in efforts to retain science majors (President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2012). Making science classes more like science in the sense of creating highly engaging, inquiry-based learning experiences, even at the introductory level, is one goal of a project funded by Howard Hughes Medical Institute that began at our institution in 2010. Undergraduate research experiences have potential to improve science students' graduation rate, especially among minorities (Nagda, Gregerman, Jonides, von Hippel, & Lerner, 1998; Russell, 2006). The most common research experiences for undergraduates involve one-on-one mentoring by faculty members or graduate students. However, at our research-extensive university, the large number of students enrolled in freshmen- and sophomore-level science courses made this approach impractical. Instead, we embraced the research-based lab approach piloted by the CASPiE (Center for Authentic Science Practice in Education) project for introductory chemistry (Weaver, Russell, & Wink, 2008). In this model, both science and non-science majors in first- and second-year science labs become involved in authentic research. This article describes how we transformed and adapted CASPiE's single discipline model for the cross-disciplinary context of our project and our identified learning outcomes.

It takes a village to make a scientist

Whether or not students begin college as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) majors, they typically take introductory science courses during their first two years. Structuring these courses so that they actively engage students and accurately convey what science is, what scientists do, and how science works is crucial for promoting scientific literacy. Achieving this among the diversity of freshman and sophomore science courses on our campus--each typically serving hundreds of students--required careful planning and adaptation. Efforts were made to move away from traditional, highly directive cookbook laboratory experiences and promote inquiry-based teaching and learning in classrooms and research experiences in science labs. Figure 1 (adapted from Weaver et al., 2008) conveys the experiences promoted in the diversity of science courses (noted in parentheses) that were part of our project.

To promote these laboratory experiences, during the fall of 2010 a faculty learning community (FLC; Addis et al., 2013) was established to focus on implementing research modules within existing primarily introductory science courses. Faculty involved in teaching a science lab course were invited to participate and offered a modest amount of professional development funds; about 15 faculty ranging from lecturers to full professors joined the FLC in the first year. …

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