Black Hills State University is a partner in a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) that will put BHSU at the forefront of innovation in science education on a national level.

Dr. Rodney Custer, provost and vice president for academic affairs at BHSU, is the principal investigator and leader of the five-year project that will address some of the challenges the nation faces in science education. The project will examine the viability of an engineering concept based approach to teacher professional development.

Custer notes that the timing for this project is impeccable, since the National Research Council just released a major report entitled “Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards” which includes elements of engineering and design. This framework will guide the development of science education standards for the schools. This is one of the first projects of this type to be funded by the NSF.

“The grant will give us the chance to influence science education on a national level, and will help us better understand how design and engineering activities can help students better learn science” Custer says. “This grant will put the national spotlight on us and will help position BHSU in an important visible leadership role in science education.”

President Kay Schallenkamp says that the grant is a great fit for BHSU, which has earned a stellar reputation for its legacy of providing high quality teacher education programs and has a strong and rapidly growing science program.

BHSU will be a partner with Purdue and several other universities from across the nation on this grant funded project. Custer says the grant will create unique opportunities for BHSU science education faculty as well as the Center for the Advancement of Math and Science Education (CAMSE) at BHSU.

The five-year grant project will address the challenges of science education by examining the viability of an engineering concept based approach to teacher professional development within life science and physical science. The project will:
• refine the conceptual base of engineering for secondary level learning
• develop science teachers’ understanding of engineering concepts
• engage the science teachers in a process of curriculum concept infusion, and
• study the change in teachers’ understandings and impact on learning and teaching.
This project will use an innovative concept-driven approach to professional development for science teachers. Specifically, the goals of the project are:
• To understand how science teachers learn engineering concepts through a concept-based professional development program.
• To understand how engineering design activities can stimulate students’ interest in and learning of science.
• To examine the implementation issues and problems encountered by teachers as they incorporate engineering concepts into standards-based curricula and instructional activities.

Groups of teachers from the life and physical science areas will participate in summer institutes and school year experiences with students. This will include exploring new ways of teaching science using engineering concepts, curriculum revision and new ways of engaging students with science through the use of authentic, real world activities.

“This has the potential to transform science education. We know from previous studies that around the fifth grade students begin to disengage from science,” Schallenkamp says. “Science education is critical for our nation. If we can get students excited about science and create more effective methods for teaching science the implications are limitless.”