Do we really know that adding technology to learning works?

Am I smart yet?

Is it the tool or the technique?

At the Education Rethink blog, John Spencer makes the argument that tech integration in K-12 has been slow because the stakes are too high – teachers do not feel comfortable experimenting with new methods because of pressure to succeed with their students.  I get that and I think he is right to a certain measure.  We do need a more professional environment where teachers are trusted to develop new and better ideas and approaches.  Other reasons are also mentioned, such as the need for PD, the lack of time to learn and a few other legitimate holdups.  I like what he has to say.

But it got me thinking about my own classes and about the teachers I talk to daily.  I responded with what is below and I wanted to post it here so you can pick on me rather than on John’s excellent blog.  Here is what I said over there: Continue reading

What can a student expect from my introductory chemistry course for non-majors?

Chuck doesn’t need to know chemistry. But you are not Chuck Norris.

Among other duties, I teach large lecture classes of introductory chemistry at a land grant research university. The course I have “earned” (by generating the fewest number of student complaints, I am sure) is the course for non-science majors. It serves as a general science core course in our curriculum. Every graduate of my university must take at least two science courses, one of which requires a lab. This list includes courses such as the ubiquitous Astronomy and Geology courses and the less common Environmental Science. The first two are well-known in the US system and strive to create an exposure to scientific method and are relatively low-stakes courses. The Environmental Science course awards enrolled students significant points towards their total grades for attendance. That also makes the course pretty low-stakes. These courses can be difficult to compete with for student enrollment who are not highly motivated to work hard and actually learn college level material – which is the case for many students fulfilling university general requirements. I am happy to say enrollment in my course is growing fast – so fast, a second large lecture had to be added this year. Continue reading

Does the content level preparation of high school teachers matter?

Yes, it does, at least for High School Chemistry.

[note: I recently added more data to this study and reworked my stats.  The average GPAs quoted in this study are barely changed and analysis shows that the average differences are significant to greater than 0.99 confidence level.  I expected I would need much more data to reach this conclusion but with differences in GPA that large, the effect is real.  I will continue to add data but I do not expect any changes, other than the differences will probably grow.]

The following graphic is a copy of a brochure that describes preliminary results of a study undertaken at UI in my Chem 101 – Introductory Chemistry course. The study tracked student performance of students who had previously taken a chemistry course in the state of Idaho while in High School. The state of Idaho has a majority of rural school districts. It’s challenging to find highly qualified teachers in STEM fields. In order to staff the positions in rural districts, Idaho has relatively light educational requirements in chemistry and physics. For example, the majority of Idaho teachers deemed “highly qualified” to teach chemistry have an endorsement in Physical Science or in Natural Science. These two endorsements value a broad teacher preparation over content specialization and the result is that a chemistry teacher can teach with as little as eight college semester hours of chemistry and in some cases, as few as four. The study described below was undertaken to discover the effect of this reduced teacher content preparation on student success in college.

Click on the image to increase the size to a more readable format. The brochure is meant to read in columns across the page. There are two individual pages to enlarge – top and bottom.