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How Do You Run an AP Class Experiment in 40 Minutes? Ask Duquesne University’s School of Education and the Bayer School

The Schools of Science and Education at Duquesne University, supported by a grant from the Frick Fund of the Buhl Foundation, are teaming up to improve high school science teaching.

Recent headlines have reported that the U.S. is lagging behind in science skills—and apparently, in the skill of teaching science.

Backed by the Frick Fund, which focuses on K-12 public school education, a team of professors is trying to reinvigorate science teaching by providing professional development for local teachers.

Dean David Seybert of the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, Dr. Jeffry Madura, chemistry professor in the Bayer School, and Dr. Alexandra Santau, assistant professor in the School of Education, are working to provide mid- and late-career high school science teachers with the tools to help them develop a hands-on, inquiry-based method of teaching Advanced Placement (AP) courses.

“There is a disconnect among science, the scientists, the science world and education,” said Santau, a faculty member in the Department of Instruction and Leadership in Education and principal investigator for the project. “We think that good science can only be taught if you know the science and the way to teach it. It’s not enough to be just a scientist, and it’s not enough just to be a teacher.”

Santau will be working on the delivery end. Seybert and Madura are interested in better connecting science and education.

“We’re very impressed with the team work of the content-oriented science department and the practical knowledge of the School of Education,” said Cheryl Kubelick, vice president and senior program officer of the Buhl Foundation.

Particularly in high school, much science teaching is content driven, with AP courses and exams, as well as state exams, Seybert noted. The goal is to increase the use of the inquiry-based methodology, helping students to pose questions, develop hypotheses and reach conclusions.

According to Seybert, “One of our goals is to help secondary science teachers understand that they can utilize inquiry-based methods to deliver the same content as effectively or even more effectively than lecture-based approaches.”

Research has shown that students who understand the concepts do better on tests than those who memorize information. Plus, said Education Dean Olga Welch, these skills are transferrable.

“The scientific method is excellent at helping people learn to organize their thinking, to come out with a hypothesis on why this is working, what you know and what else you need to know,” Welch said.

The program is targeting teachers who might be otherwise uncomfortable or intimidated by the hands-on approach. Teachers will learn to make instruction more student-centered, learning how to guide students in planning experiments, building models, setting up questions, and collecting and interpreting data.

“It will make students better learners, enhance their critical thinking and analysis skills, and help them to become more proficient problem solvers,” Seybert said.

Besides the cross-campus collaboration, the program is notable because it has input from teachers and the help of an advisory board from half-a-dozen local schools including Perry Traditional Academy, the Winchester-Thurston School and Penn Hills, Shaler, Chartiers Valley and Quaker Valley high schools.

The workshops for teachers will start this fall and the program will run for a year.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.