UMass Boston Creates a New Vision for Urban Science Education

Jim Mortenson | August 08, 2010
UMass Boston Creates a New Vision for Urban Science Education

UMass Boston Creates a New Vision for Urban Science Education

As the United States strives to maintain and extend its global leadership in science and technology, science and math educators from across the country recently attended a national showcase at UMass Boston on progress made in teaching and learning in urban science education.

The showcase served as a forum for the Boston Science Partnership (BSP), comprised of the Boston Public Schools, Northeastern University, and UMass Boston as the lead institution, to share with a national audience its results and findings since the BSP’s dramatic expansion in 2004, thanks to a $12.5 million Math and Science Partnership grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

In 2004, the BSP partners envisioned that at the end of their project, challenging core courses would be taught by highly qualified teachers; advanced science courses would be accessible to all Boston Public School students; university faculty would work alongside K-12 teachers in science education reform; and new teaching and learning formats would promote student achievement in science in grades 6 through 12.

The partners also envisioned the BSP as an exchange program in which science and engineering professors and pre-service science teachers would learn as much about science education from K-12 teachers as the teachers and pre-service teachers learn about science content from professors. Now, in 2010, success is no longer a distant, abstract horizon, but a fast approaching reality rich in achievement.

“We are a research university with a teaching soul,” Chancellor J. Keith Motley said. “As our academic reputation grows, we continue to steadfastly deliver a student-centered education that is not commonly associated with major public universities. Our faculty members have strong research and publishing credentials, but improving teaching and learning at UMass Boston and in our communities is a key priority for all faculty.”

“Since the start of the project, we have seen impressive results in student achievement, teacher quality, and relationships between the Boston Public Schools and local higher education institutions,” said Hannah Sevian, lead investigator of the NSF-funded project. Sevian is an associate professor at UMass Boston with a dual appointment in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education and Human Development and the Department of Chemistry in the College of Science and Mathematics.

“Urban science education is one of the biggest challenges we face today,” Motley said. “So it is wonderful that so many science educators have come to UMass Boston to learn from our experiences and hopefully build their own partnerships.”

There have been numerous outgrowths of the showcase, including consulting to national partnerships who were invigorated by the attendance at the Showcase. Furthermore, showcase proceedings are being published this summer for a wider audience of science education reformers.

Building strength in science and math education learning and research

Using the BSP as a springboard, UMass Boston has in a remarkably brief time built an enviable research cluster in science and math education learning and research. While the intellectual capacity to achieve success has always quietly existed at UMass Boston since its establishment in 1964, recent success in recruiting additional faculty talent and obtaining federal and other grants has shed light on the university’s accomplished faculty and solidified its reputation as one of the nation’s best urban research universities.

At the root of UMass Boston’s drive to change the face of urban science and math education is the increasing diversity of our nation’s population. The leaders of the government, education, and business and industry sectors all recognize the critical need to educate a workforce that mirrors the nation’s diverse citizenry. Addressing our talent needs now ensures that our future will include an adequate number of well-educated doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, researchers, healthcare administrators, software developers, information technology professionals, and many others. According to BSP project director Jennifer Dorsen, we should be optimistic.

“The BSP has changed the culture of science education in Boston by creating a vibrant, highly qualified, high achieving community of instructors and students from kindergarten through higher education," she said.

In support of her statement, Dorsen proudly cites the following accomplishments: “In five years the project has tripled the number of students succeeding in Advanced Placement science, added 260 licenses to teachers’ resumes, formed long-lasting partnerships between higher education and schools, and created an active network of teacher leaders in science education.”

COSMIC Summer for the BSP at UMass Boston

This summer, over 400 students and dozens of science and math teachers are participating in the Summer Bridge to AP Science program. Teachers will expand their skills by participating in the Advanced Placement Summer Institute for Teachers, and Contextualized Content Courses. All activities take place on the campuses of UMass Boston, Harvard Medical School, and Northeastern University.

COSMIC, or the Center of Science and Mathematics in Context, is responsible for coordinating the BSP’s summer activities at UMass Boston, as well as many professional development opportunities for BSP teachers year round. Mirroring the BSP, COSMIC’s mission is to advance high quality teaching and learning in science and math for all students at K-12, university undergraduate and graduate levels.

Arthur Eisenkraft is the director of COSMIC and a nationally recognized leader in developing innovative science education programs, such as Active Physics and Active Chemistry. Last March, Eisenkraft received the Robert H. Carleton Award from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). The award recognizes one individual who has made outstanding contributions to and provided leadership in science education and to the NSTA in particular.

When Eisenkraft arrived at UMass Boston in 2004, he spoke of his work and that of his colleagues with the Boston Public Schools, and said he envisioned building “a bridge between the university and the Boston Public Schools.” He went on to say, “Nobody has been able to make an urban educational system work in a way that we hope they will work. I think we can do it in Boston. I think the Boston Public Schools are ready to do it and I think UMass can play a part, and so it’s very exciting to be here to participate in that.” At the Showcase Eisenkraft looked back over the past five years to note the role that UMass Boston has played in that progress as well as additional ongoing efforts inspired by the partnership.

To continue building this momentum, Vice Provost for Research and Strategic Initiatives Zong-Guo Xia, Dean of the College of Science and Mathematics Andrew Grosovsky, and Professor Robert Chen (a co-principal investigator of the BSP) recently held a successful meeting of faculty and staff to discuss submitting a grant application for establishing a national center for science education.

When it comes to science and math education and learning research, we are the university on the move.

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