Undergraduate science programs get boost from $1.3 million NSF grant

  • Oct 10, 2017
  • STEM Education, Research, NSF, grant
  • Homepage Hero, Faculty & Staff, Research, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics & Astronomy

Armed with information on how to achieve successful transformation, a team of Michigan State University researchers led by Melanie Cooper look to keep the upward momentum going for undergraduate students and faculty members in science programs. 

MSU poressor Melanie Cooper is leading a project supported by a $1.3 million NSF grant to transform teaching and learning in college science courses.

Melanie Cooper, a Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education in the MSU Department of Chemistry, is leading a project supported by $1.3 million NSF grant that that implements an innovative teaching and learning model, 3-D learning, to transform introductory and upper-level science college courses.

The effort that focuses on how people learn science is changing the way introductory and upper-level Science,Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) courses are taught—for the better. Building on work started four years ago funded by the Association of American Universities, MSU will implement an innovative teaching and learning model known as three-dimensional (3-D) learning supported by a five-year, $1,323,499 grant from the National Science Foundation. The project, Extending a Coherent Gateway to STEM Teaching and Learning, is a collaborative initiative between the College of Natural Science, Lyman Briggs and partner institutions. Additional funds from the collaborative partnership brings the total to $2 million for the project.

“This approach focuses on linking and connecting new knowledge to core ideas that extend throughout the discipline, cross-cutting concepts that span disciplines and allow students to connect ideas across disciplines, and scientific practices that are essentially the things that scientists do,” said Cooper, lead investigator of the project and a Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education in the MSU College of Natural Science's  Department of Chemistry.

In a 3-D Learning classroom, students are asked to do more than recall and calculate. For instance, they might be asked to analyze and interpret experimental data to determine patterns in the data, make a claim about what that means, construct a model or an explanation for why a system behaves in a certain way, and predict the effect of changes to the system.

“Because students are doing much of the creating in such a class, they will be more engaged and more likely to understand and be able to use their knowledge,” Cooper said.

During the first phase of the project, it was found that instructors began to change their approach to teaching, learning and assessing student learning—and students were benefiting. There were improvements in average grades, and according to Cooper, about 450 more students in general chemistry each semester were leaving the class prepared for future work with at least a 3.0 grade point.

The goal of the present grant is twofold: first, to investigate what factors affect the spread of the transformation effort by determining which approaches are more effective in spreading the reform effort as it extends to more faculty members and more and different courses; and secondly, to examine the impact on students both in terms of their learning and on their retention in STEM and graduation rates.

Over the duration of the grant, which ends in 2022, the goal is to extend the transformed approach from the introductory gateway science courses to a wider range, including 200 and 300 level science courses.

In addition to Cooper, Rebecca Matz, Diane Ebert-May, Danny Caballero and Cori Fata-Hartley are co-PIs on the project. Senior personnel on the grant include Lynmarie Posey, Ryan Sweeder, Jon Stoltzfus, Stuart Tessmer and Mark Urban-Lurain. The research team will take part in weekly meetings to determine the course of action as data and evidence are gathered, and some will lead Faculty Fellows programs and workshops. Grand Valley State University, Florida International University and Kansas State University also are project partners.

“All the co-PIs and senior personnel will be involved in developing new ways to identify transformational practices, and will contribute to communicating results in publications and workshops,” Cooper said. 

Photos: Harley Seeley