Science class for teachers

Penn’s Masters of Chemistry Education program has been helping middle and secondary level teachers expand and improve their knowledge of the subject since 2001. Now, teachers who feel lacking in science expertise will be able to turn to Penn for even more help.

The proposed Penn Science Teacher Institute—to be run jointly by the science departments in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Education—will continue to offer the Masters of Chemistry Education, as well as a new program, tentatively named the Master of Integrated Science Education Program.

As Constance Blasie, director of the Masters of Chemistry Education program, explains, Penn’s involvement in middle school science teaching began with a lament from a faculty member. Several years ago, Penn Chemistry Professor Hai-Lung Dai voiced concerns about the decreasing number of U.S. applicants to the University’s chemistry department.

“He sort of threw that question out there: ‘What could the chemistry department do to try to encourage more Americans to study science?’” says Blasie. That led to the creation of the Masters of Chemistry Education program. Now, a $5 million Institute Partnerships grant from the National Science Foundation makes the additional integrated science degree program possible. The integrated science degree will be an intense, interdisciplinary program designed to give teachers the facts so they feel comfortable leading middle school students in all science classes. The goal is to “allow a teacher to not be horrified by kids asking questions,” says Blasie, the program director of the proposed Institute.

Because middle school teachers are usually certified in elementary instruction—a much more generalized field—they may not be comfortable teaching science, says Blasie, who also notes that science often gets short shrift on standardized tests, which tend to focus on math and English. Teachers in the program will get scholarships and stipends if they come from one of Penn’s partner school districts, the schedule will be flexible—with classes available on nights and weekends—and teachers will have access to materials to be used either for their own study or to take into their classrooms. The Institute’s first students should arrive in the summer of 2005.

In the program’s Administrator Science Academy component, administrators—such as school principals—will learn about cutting-edge scientific discoveries and research and take that knowledge back to their schools to promote a culture of knowledge.

Ultimately, Blasie hopes the program will give middle school teachers the confidence to implement a model of guided questions and answers in their science classrooms—rather than just having students memorize lists of facts.

Blasie hopes the programs at the STI will have a profound impact on teachers’ attitudes about science. “We want [middle school] students to believe that science is alive, [that] it’s still in the process of being discovered,” says Blasie. “Science continues to evolve as you learn more and more.”

“He sort of threw that question out there: ‘What could the chemistry department do to try to encourage more Americans to study science?’” says Constance Blasie, director of Penn’s graduate chemistry programs. As a result of Dai’s concerns, the department in 2001 launched the Masters of Chemistry Education program, designed to help middle and secondary level teachers expand and improve their knowledge of the subject.

Now, middle school teachers who feel lacking in science expertise can turn to Penn for even more help. The new Penn Science Teacher Institute—to be run jointly by the science departments in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Education—will now offer two degree programs: the Masters of Chemistry Education and a new program, tentatively named the Master of Integrated Science Education Program.

The integrated science degree will be an intense, interdisciplinary program designed to give teachers the facts so they feel comfortable leading middle school students in all science classes. The goal is to “allow a teacher to not be horrified by kids asking questions,” says Blasie, the program director of the proposed Institute.

Because middle school teachers are usually certified in elementary instruction—a much more generalized field—they may not be comfortable teaching science, says Blasie, who also notes that science often gets short shrift on standardized tests, which tend to focus on math and English.

Penn received $5 million for the program through an Institute Partnerships grant from the National Science Foundation. The Institute’s first students should arrive in the summer of 2005.

Teachers in the program will get scholarships and stipends if they come from one of Penn’s partner school districts, the schedule will be flexible—with classes available on nights and weekends—and teachers will have access to materials to be used either for their own study or to take into their classrooms.

In the program’s Administrator Science Academy component, administrators—such as school principals—will learn about cutting-edge scientific discoveries and research and take that knowledge back to their schools to promote a culture of knowledge.

Ultimately, Blasie hopes the program will give middle school teachers the confidence to implement a model of guided questions and answers in their science classrooms—rather than just having students memorize lists of facts.

Blasie hopes the programs at the STI will have a profound impact on teachers’ attitudes about science. “We want [middle school] students to believe that science is alive, [that] it’s still in the process of being discovered,” says Blasie. “Science continues to evolve as you learn more and more.”

For more information, email the Institute at PennSTI@sas.upenn.edu or call 215-898-4894.

Originally published on November 4, 2004