College of Education summit discusses STEM education

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.—The Penn State College of Education presented the Waterbury Summit at the Hintz Family Alumni Center at University Park on Aug. 7-9. Richard Duschl, the Waterbury chaired professor of education in the college, presided over the summit.

The purpose of the summit was to bring together education leaders and researchers to examine and discuss changes in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education. Duschl said that this summit assembled participants to explore both the challenges nationally for the roll out, the adoption and the implementation of the next generation science standards.

“There is a lot of work on the alignment of curriculum, instruction and assessment that needs to get done at the K-12 levels,” said Duschl, “but more importantly these efforts need to extend into the undergraduate levels because that is where our future teachers are prepared.”

According to Duschl, this is critically important work that will take many years to address.

“When I came to Penn State five years ago, I came with an agenda to try to build more activities around a new emerging domain that we refer to as the learning sciences,” said Duschl. “I think this Waterbury Summit, and others to be held in the future, will help build some agency into that effort and bring some important voices together that can begin to think about how to position Penn State more strongly into the learning sciences’ agenda.”

Duschl said that he wanted to involve faculty at Penn State from the various centers and institutes across the University who are involved in education reform. “By doing that, I have learned that there are some amazingly exciting things occurring on our campus,” said Duschl.

About 50 attendees participated in the summit, including a number of faculty members and administrators from Penn State as well as higher education institutions across the country.

Carla Zembal-Saul, professor of education and a department head for the College of Education, said the summit was an opportunity to consider the implications of the Next Generation Science Standards on K-16 education.

“One important aspect of this work is to support the preparation of highly qualified STEM professionals for the workforce of a new economy,” said Zembal-Saul. “The other aim is equally important – crafting an educational system that can support the development of scientifically informed citizens.”

Nancy Brickhouse, interim provost at the University of Delaware, said she came to the summit because she knew she would benefit from hearing the ideas of fellow participants.

“I have a National Science Foundation grant on climate change education, and a lot of that work is premised on the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards that are oriented around climate change,” said Brickhouse. “So hearing more about research around the implementation of the standards is highly relevant to that work.”

Richard Lehrer from Vanderbilt University said that the summit was addressing complex, leading edge questions that the science community does not have good answers for.

“I think what emerge from this might be some ways to get traction on problems that are generally acknowledged as complex and for basically most of our research existence, intractable,” said Lehrer

Another participant, Brian Coppola from the University of Michigan, said he came to the summit because he is interested in what kind of student the K-12 system produces.

“When I make my short list of the kinds of things that I want students to be able to do and think about, it very rarely is a list of stuff,” said Coppola. “I think stuff is important, but I want them to be comfortable with ideas like ambiguity. I want them to be comfortable with uncertainty. I’d like them to understand that not everything is right the first time and that things do not have discreet answers.”

Richard Duschl

Richard Duschl, the Waterbury chaired professor of education in the College of Education, speaks to summit participants.

Image: Kevin Sliman

Duschl said he hopes that the summit will spawn further research and development at the University.

“I hope this becomes a springboard for bigger and better things that will happen at Penn State in the years to come,” said Duschl.

Duschl said he is thankful for the input of members of the Waterbury Summit Advisory Board, Greg Kelly, associate dean of research, outreach, and technology; Zembal-Saul; Nancy Tuana, professor of philosophy and director of the Rock Ethics Institute; and Tom Keiter, former executive producer of Penn State Public Broadcasting.

The Waterbury Summit is funded by the 1988 endowment to the college from Kenneth B. Waterbury.

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Last Updated September 12, 2013