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College of Education > News and Publications > 2017: 10-12 news > State-of-the-art classrooms to reflect new techniques of teaching science

State-of-the-art classrooms to reflect new techniques of teaching science

It’s not so much what the new science wing in the College of Education will look like that appeals to Scott McDonald, it’s more of the possibility that prospective students will take another look at the value of being a science education major.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — It’s not so much what the new science wing in the College of Education will look like that appeals to Scott McDonald, it’s more of the possibility that prospective students will take another look at the value of being a science education major.

science wing
This artist’s rendering shows the floor plan of the College of Education’s renovated science wing.
When construction begins in January 2018 in the area adjacent to the Office of Multicultural Programs on the first floor of Chambers Building, the associate professor of science education is eyeing the possibility that additional student interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) majors stems from the bricks and mortar and accompanying accoutrements.

“I think this can serve as a potential recruitment tool to bring people into science-teaching fields, people from science and engineering fields into teaching, which I think is incredibly important,” McDonald said. “Our enrollments have been down and this is not just a Penn State thing, it’s a national trend – we’re losing people especially in STEM areas into teaching.

“We just have fewer and fewer people because if you can get a degree in science, you’re more likely to go into a science- or industry-related field compared to teaching; it’s just pretty much the finances of the thing.”

Daniel Henderson, a master’s student in McDonald’s SCIED 412 (Teaching Secondary Science II) course, believes that modernizing facilities is an important symbolic and logistical step toward maintaining and improving Penn State’s state-of-the-art science education program. “We are constantly discovering more about the way students learn, and those discoveries subsequently inform how we teach,” Henderson said.

“We absolutely need facilities that both reflect our goals and allow us to more effectively prepare to be teachers. With the new science wing, students considering our program will see an environment that complements our message and methodology,” he said.

Denise Coslo, a returning-adult student also in SCIED 412, said the upcoming new space would create an environment in which both new and experienced teachers can collaborate to increase science teachers’ pedagogy knowledge as well as scientific knowledge. “I have been a research technologist for many years and the advancements in science have been significant in that time,” Coslo said.

“As technology advances, so does the possibility of younger students (pre-K to 12) to experience STEM activities in schools. This leads to the importance of pre-service science teachers being able to learn and experience new techniques and effective methods to teach science to these students.”

She said having an updated facility would help younger pre-service teachers see the possibilities of how to implement many of the theoretical teaching/learning methods they have learned in class and help them plan lessons that will be most effective. “I am sure most students interested in science education enjoy science and have taken many courses, but it does not mean they know how to teach it to others,” Coslo said.

McDonald explained that Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were recently updated with “different notions” of what kids should do and how teachers should help them do that.

“I think having classrooms that reflect that there are differences and that we should be thinking about science teaching in new ways is important to really help our pre-service teachers have visions of what’s possible in science teaching rather than just having classrooms that look like the same classrooms they were in when they were in high school,” McDonald said.

The $5 million project is being funded equally by the College of Education and the University’s Facility Naming Committee, according to Simon Corby, director of Development and Alumni Relations in the College. “Any money that we raise philanthropically will offset some of that and free up some of the College funds; the University’s funds are committed,” he said. 

“The more that we can free up of the College funds, the better off we’ll be for future renovations, future developments, whatever else we need in the College. That’s the impetus behind getting some of this supported philanthropically,” said Corby, who added that a University corporate liaison officer currently is seeking some corporate support.

The entire wing can be named for $2.5 million, or separate components of the wing can be named for a minimum $250,000. The Center for Science and the Schools (CSATS), which provides professional development for current science teachers as well as assistance with the broader impact portion of various grant applications, is part of the wing, and the Teaching Elementary Science Leadership Academy (TESLA) is involved as well.

“A $50 gift to TESLA will help pay for a couple of hours of a student’s time to go work at Discovery Space (Children’s Museum); people can make an impact with relatively small dollar amounts,” Corby said.

The new wing will be all-encompassing for all involved in science education. “The nice thing is that means we can think about how that whole space might be used for both of our missions — professional development for teachers, which is one of the big things that CSATS does, and the preparation of teachers, which is what we do,” McDonald said. “Having space for graduate students and all the storage space for our materials and prep and all that. How do we create a complete suite that meets all the needs of our activity in one place?”

Student teachers can sign out equipment and various learning materials to be used in their classroom. “Pre-service elementary teachers, their schools may not have much in the way of science materials. We provide that so they can go out into these schools and teach lessons,” McDonald said.

While Coslo will not benefit from what the new wing will offer, she is pleased that many others will. “I hope that the new science education facility will allow young students interested in science education experience cutting-edge professional development and have access to new technological advances to aid them in their classroom,” Coslo said.

Henderson said the ability to help public schools that might lack funding can’t be overlooked as one of the wing’s many facets. “Being able to sign out equipment and materials and use them in mentors’ classrooms allows Penn State prospective science teachers to introduce scientific phenomena that might otherwise be unattainable,” Henderson said.

“We can hope that funding will eventually not be a limiting factor for public schools, but until that day comes, pre-service and student teachers will continue to benefit from the resources made available by the College of Education. I look forward to the challenges of being a science teacher in what appears to be a world that needs a greater appreciation of science,” he said.

By Jim Carlson (November 2017)