Widening Horizons in Science Education (WHISE)

  • Project Description

    Soon after rollout of its first traveling laboratory in 2000 UNC-Chapel Hill-s Traveling Science Learning Program (called DESTINY) began innovating on the mobile-lab concept to provide a sustainable broadly useful model for science education reform. With a Science Education Partnership Award in 2003 WHISE became the framework within which DESTINY pilots and evaluates approaches to achieving equity of access to high-quality science education for all students. WHISE-s goals are to: develop and implement innovative interdisciplinary curricula that form multiple pathways to scientific content and proactively address teachers- and students- needs at this time of increased emphasis on standards testing and relevance; treat schools as part of wider ecosystems where partnerships among community members policy makers and educators across disciplines and organizations can promote thriving environments for learning about science and its real-world uses; employ UNC-Chapel Hill-s traveling laboratories as vehicles for regional and statewide change by raising awareness of issues in education science and health; and by -marketing- the excitement and value of contemporary science education to a range of audiences.

  • Abstract

    Our nation’s science education enterprise is engaged in a struggle to respond to astounding societal transformations such as the explosion of science knowledge and technology innovation. The impact is felt keenly in the life sciences where the Human Genome Project gene therapy embryonic stem cell research and other innovations make daily news and are destined to change our society in profound ways. In light of this transformation the recent Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) study revealed America’s comparative decline in student science and math learning. These data along with states adopting accountability testing illustrate the need for reforming education in general and science education in particular. Exacerbating the crisis are socioeconomic and geographic variables that create inequity of student access to quality science education particularly for underrepresented populations. To resolve the crisis innovative models for reforming science education must be developed and disseminated. Widening Horizons In Science Education (WHISE) proposes to do this embracing a science education ecosystem approach to effecting systemic reform in a learning community focusing on the health sciences because of their relevance to us all. Crafting an ecosystem model that weaves into one fabric multiples of institutions disciplines and collaborators needed for restoration of the system requires a multifaceted process-based approach that addresses the elements for science education reform. Therefore WHISE proposes developing in collaboration with three rural high minority enrollment school systems a science education model that includes: 1) contemporary learning resources; 2) educator professional development; 3) collaboration with administration; 4) sharing science with the community; 5) adoption of information technology in instruction; 6) students experiencing the elements of reform; and 71 marketing as a strategy to attract inteest in science. The centerpiece of this model will be UNC-CH’s 40-foot Traveling Science and Technology Laboratory which though the power of its visual image will bring attention to the science education crisis. The holistic nature of WHISE’s design and the use of an action research approach to achieve success will lead to the creation of a program having broad application across the science learning landscape. By supporting programs like WHISE which looks to the horizon for innovative solutions and how to reach them the NIH will achieve its goal of increasing understanding of science diversity of the workforce and the health and overall quality of life of our society.

  • Dissemination Strategies

    1. Professional development workshops for teachers 2. Learning experiences for students 3. Collaborations with other education outreach programs 4. Presentation of curriculum and research at regional and national events 5. Publication of curriculum and related materials in print and online.

  • Project Evaluation(s)

    WHISE is a multifaceted integrated approach to investigating how declining student and community interest in biomolecular and biomedical sciences can be reversed in defined education ecosystems. WHISE follows recommendations that ‘when investigating human behavior and attitudes it is more fruitful to use a variety of data collection methods. . . . A multimethod approach to evaluation can increase both the validity and reliability of evaluation data’ (Frechtling & Sharp Westat 1997). Therefore in addition to paper and online surveys discussion with key informants and focus groups (e.g. a program advisory committee of teachers a county-level steering committee of community members and other stakeholders and workshop participant groups) observation by project staff at target sites and ‘documents of life’ become part of the evaluation and research data. Using this mixed-method approach WHISE identifies describes and measures the effectiveness of selected interactions among and/or within significant groups in education ecosystems most notably those interactions involving transfer of knowledge and other tangible and intangible resources. Professional Development Settings: WHISE evaluation and research strategies emphasize the extent of teacher adoption of curriculum which is typically tracked from the beginning of module development through teacher focus groups and observation of pilot and regular training workshops’and continues as long as each module is supported by the DESTINY Program. WHISE collects additional quantitative and qualitative data from teachers through workshop exit surveys workshop follow-up surveys and end-of-year surveys. Science and Non-Science Classrooms: WHISE seeks to gauge the effect of its curriculum on student learning student interest in science and student attitudes towards current scientific topics. A large dataset derives from student and teacher surveys administered after hands-on learning experiences on board the traveling laboratories or in partner classrooms. Smaller datasets are derived from student performance on content-specific pre-tests and post-tests in selected control and experimental classrooms. Schools and School Systems: Using a combination of the formative and summative assessment strategies mentioned above WHISE currently tracks diffusion of its innovations in five diverse education ecosystems. These range from a science-themed school arising from North Carolina’s New Schools Project to a systemwide initiative to build science learning infrastructure that will attract economic development to a rural county.

  • Resources for Sharing

    Curriculum guides based on DESTINY-s professional development workshops for teachers can be downloaded from the DESTINY website at no charge. These guides include detailed lesson plans classroom scripts and quizzes student handouts and worksheets lab protocols supply lists and vendor contact information interdisciplinary activities for English and social studies classrooms alignments to state and national standards background information and more. The guides cover a range of topics in the life sciences and each includes a hands-on investigation which might take place in a conventional classroom school science lab computer lab or schoolyard or on board a mobile lab. Examples of topics covered: the genetics and biochemistry of obesity and overweight; science citizenship and environmental toxins; heart structure function and health; bioinformatics and the origin of eukaryotic cells; biological ecosystems and literary landscapes; and the science and history of evolutionary biology. Many of these guides also include lesson plans that science and non-science teachers can use to help their students learn about clinical research related to the main topics covered (e.g. studies on environmental factors in childhood asthma or on probacteria as a treatment for malnourished infants) and the provisions that are in place to ensure the safety of human participants in clinical trials. In addition to providing training opportunities for teachers and learning experiences for students WHISE project staff actively share information about starting and operating a traveling laboratory program addressing the needs of North Carolina-s schools in rural and underserved areas and developing effective resources for all teachers and students.

Project Audience

Our main focus is currently on teachers and students at the secondary level paying particular attention to rural areas where access to resources is limited. We are also interested in engaging a number of related audiences as these may affect the quality of science learning in their local high schools. Therefore where feasible we also provide professional development hands-on learning experiences and classroom materials at the elementary middle school community college and university levels. Additional activities are directed to education policy makers and community stakeholders within selected systems and regions.

Subjects Addressed

Allied Health Anatomy and Physiology Biology Biotechnology Chemistry English Environmental Science Health Social Studies