Science Literacy

for All Kansans

Center Home Button
Objectives Button
Events Button
Staff Button
Resources Button
KU Home Button

Reform: Planning for More Effective Science Education


Chancellor Robert Hemenway has challenged the University of Kansas to become a world-class center in science and communications technology research, literacy and education to benefit all of the citizens of Kansas and the Kansas City Metropolitan area. The University has initiated an ambitious plan for improving the quality of science education for all citizens within this region by establishing working partnerships among school districts, two-year and four-year colleges and informal science education institutions within the region. These partnerships will work to infuse K-12 school curricula, undergraduate science and technology curricula, and public education and outreach activities with technology driven hands-on science experiences. Two objectives are central to realizing the Chancellor's challenge:

  • Objective 1: Empower regional science teachers and faculty to deliver science education that makes effective use of technology in student-centered science research experiences.

  • Objective 2: Develop the infrastructure at the University of Kansas that we need to model this instructional strategy at every level of science education.

These objectives have a strong synergy with the University's effort to build a nationally recognized research focus around existing private sector collaborations in life science and information technology in the Kansas City region. Fostering partnerships in science education through the implementation of these objectives will create a nationally relevant model for improving science education among all age groups.

The need for the University of Kansas to assert its role as a regional intellectual leader in science and technology has grown out of the following issues:

  • The decision by the Kansas State Board of Education to de-emphasize modern scientific theories including evolution and geologic time. The confusion of science, religion and politics evident in this move highlights the need for improved scientific literacy among the public. It also illustrates public mistrust of the motives of scientists and the lack of understanding about the societal and environmental costs of past scientific achievements.

  • The digital divide that shuts an important segment of our population out of opportunities to participate in and benefit from the scientific and technological revolution. In spite of our proximity to Haskell Indian Nations University and the Kansas City Metropolitan area, which is home to a highly diverse population, the University of Kansas has struggled in its efforts to serve Native American, African American and Hispanic students. The University recognizes that partnering with school districts in Kansas City may be an initial effective step toward generating a more diverse University student body and faculty

  • Disappointing scores by K-12 students on internationally standardized science and mathematics tests. The results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) are a negative indicator for our nation's future competitiveness in high-tech industry. Attracting and maintaining a scientifically and technologically skilled workforce is a major objective of Kansas City area industrial and educational leaders.

  • The need to prepare students for entry into an increasingly interdependent and technologically driven world. We need to insure that our graduates from non-science and technology programs as well as students preparing for scientific or technological careers are adequately prepared to compete in a technology rich work environment.

  • Calls by nationally prominent education and science organizations to include authentic scientific research experiences (scientific inquiry) in science curricula for students at the K-16 levels. Recent reports from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the National Academy of Science (NAS) recognize that students become most engaged in the study of science as they participate in genuine research experiences. These agencies recommend that substantial components of scientific inquiry be incorporated in curricula from kindergarten through the university level.

Toward addressing these concerns, faculty and staff from the sciences, engineering, mathematics and education have worked over the past six years to develop models to present authentic scientific research experiences to students at the K-16 levels. Many of these models use Internet Technology (IT) to empower students participating in genuine scientific research by delivering scientific content, facilitating the collection and archiving of data, and assisting in the analysis and visualization of results. Since we view the University's role in delivering and supporting the delivery of science education as a continuum, ranging from elementary education for young children through lifetime science investigation for adults, the scope of these projects has covered a full range of educational experiences. The University of Kansas' new Center for Science Education (www.kuscied.ku.edu) is spearheading the activities of these partnerships. The Center can contribute the practical expertise and scholarly capability of faculty and staff from a broad range of disciplines who have experience in science education reform projects.

Project Profiles

1) Technology and Research: Tools for More Effective Science Education

Accomplishing the two objectives of this project will require a significant commitment of resources from within the University and from external sources. The first objective can be achieved through a sustained professional development effort that benefits instructors at each level of science instruction. Accomplishing the second objective will require a carefully coordinated redesign of both the science curricula and science teaching spaces employed at the University of Kansas. Brief descriptions of initiatives that will provide these professional development experiences and facilitate the redesign of the curricular and physical infrastructure for science education are included below.

Professional Development Initiatives. We view the University of Kansas as a key partner and contributor at all levels of science education reform. The most important resource that we can contribute to the reform process is to help current and future teachers and faculty to incorporate technology-rich inquiry based science curricula in their own teaching practice. A variety of projects at the University are already developing the tools to deliver this type of professional development for preservice and inservice teachers, future college and university faculty and existing science faculty members. We propose to extend the four projects described below into permanent programs for the professional development of regional K-12 and post-secondary science teachers.

  1. Innovation and Reform in K-12 Science Curricula. Population served: K-12 teachers and their classes. - The Kansas Collaborative Research Network (KanCRN), a Department of Education funded project, has developed a professional development network to show teachers at over 600 schools worldwide how to use IT delivered inquiry-based science curricula. Students add their own data to database archives and receive assistance from online project builders in designing their own original research projects. See the KanCRN website at www.kancrn.org.

  2. Undergraduate Research Experiences for Science Education Majors. Population Served: Preservice teachers, undergraduate science and technology majors. - Numerous university, NIH and NSF supported programs across the campus support the participation of science majors in undergraduate research experiences. These experiences should be expanded to include preservice teachers, who must achieve a clear understanding of the nature of scientific research during their years at the university.

  3. KU Graduate Outreach Fellowships. Population served: K-12 teachers and their students, and future University faculty. - NSF support allows KU graduate students in Chemistry, Physics, Biology, Mathematics and Engineering to participate in teaching internships in at-risk schools in the Kansas City Metropolitan area.

  4. University Internships for K-12 and Two-year College Science Instructors. Population served: K-12 teachers, college and university faculty. - NSF funding for the Kansas Collaborative for Excellence in Teacher Preparation (KCETP) currently bringing groups of K-12 science teachers and community college instructors to campus during summers for extended professional development on IT driven GIS as a tool for the analysis and visualization of environmental data. The outcomes of some projects sponsored by KCETP are shown at www.kcetp.org.

Infrastructure Initiatives. In addition to building expertise among teachers and faculty to deliver technology-rich inquiry-based science experiences, we must provide a world-class curriculum framework and physical environment in which this instructional strategy is modeled for participants in the project. The primary science teaching facilities at the University of Kansas currently touch the lives of many university and K-12 students, teachers, college faculty and citizens through courses, research experiences, professional development activities and informal educational events. We believe that the effect of these experiences could be made more lasting and the scope of this impact could be broadened with a truly modern teaching facility. Examples of progress in the redesign of our undergraduate science curricula and science teaching spaces are provided below.

  1. Redesign of Undergraduate Science Curricula. Population served: Science and technology majors, non-science majors, and preservice teachers at KU. -- NSF and Hewlett Foundation funded reform projects in three different science departments incorporate inquiry-based experiments into laboratories for both science majors and non-majors. New chemistry laboratories use IT for content delivery and data acquisition. These laboratories are accessible at http://linus.chem.ukans.edu/hewlett/.

  2. Planning an Educational Infrastructure for the Future. Population served: Science instructors and students at all levels. - University support has defined the need for a modern interdisciplinary science teaching facility that 1) maximizes the availability of collaborative space for students in lecture and laboratory environments, 2) allows the instructor to employ a range of instructional strategies within the same physical environment and 3) provides the maximum flexibility in incorporating IT interfaced scientific technology in formal teaching and laboratory spaces, and in spaces designated for student collaboration. Through the formal and informal science programs that occur on the University of Kansas campus, our primary science instruction and teaching laboratory spaces are important resources for students and teachers at all levels of science instruction.

One outcome of these initiatives will be to establish a world-class center for the study of technology and inquiry in science education and, thus, will contribute substantially to the improvement of regional science education. We expect our own scholarly studies of the change process to project the outcomes of this program onto the national stage as an important model for future science education reform. Two illustrations from the design charette for the Laboratory Science Teaching Facility are shown below. Click on the images for larger versions.

Key Personnel:

, Professor, Chemistry and Director, Center for Science Education
, Professor of Chemistry and Associate Provost
, Associate Professor, Science Education
, Professor, Associate Chair, Chemistry
, Assistant Director for Foundation Development, KU Endowment Association

Center Home | Objectives | Current Events | Center Staff | Resources | KU Home


This page last updated July 28, 2003