University of Kansas Center for Science Education

Responding to New Opportunities for Improving Public Education and Outreach.

Objectives Science educators at KU participate in a range of formal and informal public education and outreach events that reach thousands of children and adults throughout northeastern Kansas. Science departments and individual science faculty and staff engage in outreach to public schools and citizen groups. These efforts are part of the role of the university as an educational resource to the community and state. Informal education and outreach efforts are also a valuable opportunity for science and science education majors to experience the joy of communicating science to children.

The University will evaluate opportunities to extend public science education and outreach. Many of these opportunities will develop as extensions of existing informal education activities at KU. Federal programs and foundations provide some resources to support these efforts. Participants in the Center for Science Education will assist in coordinating and implementing opportunities to gain support for these activities.

Project Profiles

1) Inquiry Research Experiences for Preservice and Inservice Teachers through the KU Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center

Many of the University’s formal public education and outreach events are coordinated through the Natural History Museum. The Museum’s education program touches hundreds of K-12 students and teachers, and citizens each year. The reputation of the Museum in education and research brings recognition to the University far beyond the borders of the state.

This past summer with support from the National Science Foundation, Dr. Joseph Heppert, Steven Case and Jama Kolosick cooperated in developing an inquiry experience in water chemistry for inservice and preservice teachers. This two-week program provided an initial week of inquiry-based content enrichment activities that are transferable to middle/secondary classrooms. The teachers also developed a curriculum plan, which was implemented with groups of middle school students recruited through the Museum’s public education programs during the second week of the project. After reflecting on the outcomes of applying the research experience with the students and the resources presented during the first week, teachers will implement inquiry projects in their own classes during the coming school year.

The Natural History Museum is seeking opportunities to extend this hands-on professional development and research project to new groups of teachers and students, focusing on teachers in districts with substantial populations of underserved and underrepresented students. New research opportunities will focus on biodiversity field projects that can be customized to suit local field study sites that are available to teachers and students. This research theme builds on the Biodiversity Research Center’s international strength as a center for biodiversity and informatics research.

Key Personnel:

, Director, KU Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Center
, Acting Director of Education, KU Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Center
, Professor of Science Education, Teaching and Leadership
, Associate Director, KU Math and Science Center
, Director, KU Center for Science Education
, Project Director, Kansas Collaborative Research Network (KanCRN)

2) Bringing Extended Scientific Inquiry to Science Teachers through Geographic Information Systems

This project will create a supporting curriculum framework and associated teaching materials that will enable teachers to integrate spatial thinking and Geographic Information System technology into an inquiry-based science curriculum for students in grades 7-12. Developing students' understanding of the nature of science is an objective of all high quality science instruction. Recent efforts to reform science education in the United States (AAAS, 1993, NRC, 1996) have strongly emphasized this understanding as an essential component of general scientific literacy. More specifically, the standards call for "Science as inquiry is basic to science education and a controlling principle in the ultimate organization and selection of students' activities."(NRC, 1996)

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are powerful technology tools that help create this inquiry rich environment. GIS helps students to discover underlying patterns from locally collected data and connects this local data to patterns occurring in the larger community. Unfortunately, the promise of these potential applications for GIS in education, first discussed in the National Conference on Educational Application of Geographic Information Systems (EDGIS) in 1994, is still occurring only in isolated pockets around the country. This project will lead the way toward moving GIS into the mainstream of science education. Teachers at the middle/secondary level will be supported with materials that have a strong connection between the science content, scientific inquiry and GIS technology. These materials will be introduced in high-quality professional development experiences and supported by an existing online development community.

The principal objectives of this project are to:
  1. Provide middle /secondary teacher with exciting inquiry-based science curriculum areas infused with GIS technology.
  2. Develop a professional development package to teach teachers how to use GIS technology as an effective instructional tool, ranging from data presentation and evaluation to advanced visualizations tools.
  3. Develop a core of teacher-leaders who will involve classroom science teachers in summer institutes, workshops, conference sessions, and in a virtual community to provide adequate support in both scientific inquiry and in the use of GIS technology.
  4. Disseminate the Online Project Builder that allows classroom teachers to develop locally relevant, collaborative scientific inquiry.
  5. Collaborate with publishers to align the workshop material with themes expressed in major national science texts.
Guided by an expert panel on a steering committee, a GIS Institute will be established to develop teacher leaders. These teacher leaders will serve as the core of a virtual community of teachers, students and professionals who collaborate on the effective use of GIS as a spatial thinking tool to extend scientific inquiry. They will also create local training and support communities through presentations and workshops. After advanced training the teacher leaders will establish ongoing Summer Institutes in their local region. Online support will allow GIS Institute and the teacher leaders from this community to continue to hold development workshops that create collaborative project-based inquiry that utilize spatial analysis to explore the data.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1993. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. New York, New York. Oxford University Press.

National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, DE: National Academy Press.

Key Personnel:

, Project Director, Kansas Collaborative Research Network
, Director, KU Center for Science Education
, Distinguished Professor, Environmental Engineering

3) Institute for Science Teaching in Transition

According to research compiled by the Glenn Commission, the nation is losing more that 8,000 qualified mathematics and science teachers each year. This exodus of trained professionals is causing additional damage to an educational system that is already under severe stress. Urban, suburban and rural school districts are assigning significant numbers of provisionally licensed and unlicensed teachers to middle and secondary science and mathematics classrooms. It is increasingly clear that existing alternative certification programs are neither sufficiently numerous nor sufficiently populated to meet the substantial need for qualified teachers.

These problems are converging on public education at a time when national policy is calling for increased rigor in science and mathematics courses in order to address the disappointing performance of our students in international assessments. Many school districts are moving science content to earlier grades, adding an increasing burden of science content courses to graduation requirements and establishing new assessment priorities in mathematics and science. “Content creep”, the reassignment of mathematics and science content to lower grade levels, is insidious because it avoids the question of whether teachers are prepared to deal with more advanced content material.

Where are school districts obtaining the additional qualified mathematics teachers needed to support these changes? Often, they promote talented teachers from earlier grades or teachers with general science certification into more advanced courses. This places teachers with minimal qualifications in grade 6-9 classrooms. For students, these grades are a critical period when they form lifelong attitudes about their ability to understand and to participate in science.

These shortcuts have the most devastating impact on inner city schools. These schools already have difficulty attracting and retaining qualified mathematics and science teachers. However, we are convinced that teachers thrust into this transition between the science content that they know and content at a more advanced level are the only practical hope for students in the middle grades. We need to foster the professional development of these teachers and develop programs to help them meet their full potential as science teachers in middle grades classes.

The principal objectives of this project are to:
  1. Develop web-based instructional models that help teachers acquire the skills needed to run effective inquiry-based learning environments: Organizing classes around inquiry-based science and mathematics experiences, learning questioning skills and developing skills as facilitators of mathematics and science learning.
  2. Produce web-based courses that will deepen teacher understanding of mathematics and science content and concepts, connecting this advanced content material to research questions and discussions that often arise in the middle school classroom setting.
  3. Hold institutes to train facilitators from school districts and educational service organizations to help teachers in their districts effectively use the web based pedagogy and content resources produced by the Institute.
  4. Evaluate, comment and act as an informational clearinghouse on how science education policy affects science teachers in transitional environments.
  5. Collect and manage web-based resources to support inquiry-based teaching, teacher professional development, and effective assessment practice in middle grades classrooms.
  6. Offer M.S. degrees in Science Education to up to 20 prospective teacher-leaders in middle grades during both summer sessions and through asynchronous learning environments.
  7. Develop and provide teachers with tools for the authentic assessment of student learning in inquiry-based classrooms.
The University of Kansas Center for Science Education proposes to establish an Institute for Science Teaching in Transition. The mission of the Institute would be to monitor and influence regional and national policy on science teaching in the critical middle grades, and develop, pilot and disseminate interventions to support middle grades science teachers in transitional environments. Our first goal in working with teachers should be to enhance the instructional skills of mathematics and science teachers to reflect the current emphasis on inquiry methods of learning. Assisting teachers as they replace “cookbook” laboratory exercises with inquiry investigations which emphasize critical thought, problem solving, and questions that move from “what“ to “why” will go a long way toward preparing students to be competent in science and technology. This shift in emphasis will also drive a second much needed reform. As student questions become more sophisticated, teachers will need a greater depth of knowledge in their subject areas. The second goal, therefore, should be to improve not only the quality of content area courses in institutions that prepare teachers, but to provide incentives and opportunities for teachers to continuously enhance their own content area knowledge. Our understanding of the workings of our universe is increasing rapidly, and K-12 teachers need to stay up-to-date with not only the advancements in pure science, but with innovations in the application of science that we call technology.


American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1993. Benchmarks for Science Literacy. New York, New York. Oxford University Press.

National Research Council. 1996. National Science Education Standards. Washington, DE: National Academy Press.

Glenn Commission, 2000. Before It’s Too Late: A Report to the Nation from the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching in the 21st Century, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), 2000. Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. NCTM. Reston, VA.

TIMMS(R), 2000. Mathematics and Science in the Eighth Grade: Findings from the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, U.S. Department of Education, Washington, D.C.

Key Personnel:

, Director, KU Center for Science Education
, Professor, Teaching and Leadership and Mathematics
, Project Director, Kansas Collaborative Research Network
, Project Coordinator, Kansas Collaborative for Excellence in Teacher Preparation