A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
March 30, 2011 Volume 41 / Number 5

Why does red light plus green light make yellow? Students use inexpensive spectroscopes to figure it out.

Artist rendering of what future Arts and Humanities building might look like;

Science Educator Finalist in National STEM Competition

Irene Salter, Science Education, is among 12 education innovators from across the country chosen to present at the annual STEMposium awards ceremony. She will present her approach to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education to live and online audiences at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco April 1, competing for one of five grand prizes and for national recognition for bringing STEM education to life in the classroom in compelling new ways.

In her presentation, Salter will focus on the way she and Leslie Atkins, Science Education, teach their National Science Foundation-funded Scientific Inquiry course. They have been team-teaching Scientific Inquiry since spring 2009. They developed the course to give undergraduates planning to become elementary school teachers an opportunity to do science the way scientists do.

“STEM education is a top priority for the Obama administration,” said Salter. “In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the importance of STEM education so America can ‘out educate’ the rest of the world, and he called for 100,000 new science, technology, engineering, and math teachers.”

Salter and Atkins believe that their innovation, which allows non-science majors and future teachers the opportunity to experience “the doing” of science, will better prepare these teachers to teach science. They describe their approach as a radical shift from most science classes, where the focus is on getting students to master a list of science concepts that are dictated by the state or outlined in a textbook. The science inquiry method allows students the freedom to answer their own scientific questions in much the same way that practicing scientists do.

Salter was initially selected from 130 entries based on a 60-second video. Forty entries were picked as semifinalists, and 36 of those made a live presentation to a panel of judges on March 12. Salter showcased her STEM innovation (the Scientific Inquiry course) on the Microsoft campus in Mountain View. From that presentation, they were selected as one of 12 finalists.

At the awards ceremony on April 1, cash prizes totaling $25,000 will be awarded to the top five innovators. STEMposium’s 300 attendees will include students and teachers, civic, business, philanthropic, nonprofit, education, and technology leaders. The event will be streamed live at www.stemposium.org to a national online audience of educators, students, policy makers, business, and philanthropic leaders.

“We are honored to have been selected as finalists and are thrilled to have this opportunity to disseminate our ideas about STEM education to teachers and policy makers,” said Salter.

See the video about Atkins and Salter’s Scientific Inquiry class, as well as the videos of the other 11 finalists, here.

Kathleen McPartland and Anna Harris, Public Affairs and Publications