Our Mission

The Department of Science Education at California State University, Chico is committed to providing the North State with the highest quality science education for all learners, programs for teacher subject matter preparation and professional development, and research on teaching and learning to promote scientific appreciation and understanding.

Features Archive

Atkins Awarded an NSF Grant to Study Transformative Experiences

Dr. Leslie Atkins and her collaborator Dr. Brian Frank at Middle Tennessee State University were awarded a $200,000 Transforming Undergraduate Education grant from the National Science Foundation.

The goal of science instruction is not to simply produce higher gains on tests, standardized assessments or surveys.  While these measures provide meaningful evidence of science learning, they do not measure the broader goal of developing individuals who can extend their scientific knowledge outside of the classroom. When students come to actively use science concepts to see and experience the everyday world in meaningful, new ways researchers describe this as a “transformative experience” (Pugh, 2004). 

The goal of this project is to develop assessment tools to identify in what ways science courses engender transformative experiences. Through the iterative development of these assessment tools, Atkins and Frank will examine the nature of transformative experiences and the classroom practices that foster them. Such work will lay the groundwork for further transforming undergraduate education in the sciences by: (1) connecting physics education research with the body of research on transformative experience, providing a language for what has previously been an inchoate goal of physics instruction and an under-researched aspect of physics education; (2) developing assessment tools to allow instructors and researchers to quickly examine the prevalence of transformative experiences in physics classrooms; (3) investigating the nature of transformative experience, by providing case studies of students’ experiences; and (4) examining courses rich in transformative experiences to understand the instructional practices that foster transformative experiences.

Our New Classroom - Holt 291 Gets a Facelift

This spring the Department of Science Education fulfilled a long-term goal of creating a model classroom space for science education.

Since the formation of the Department of Science Education in 2008, classes were taught in standard science lab rooms that remain unchanged since 1974 when Holt Hall first opened. Our world has changed dramatically in those 40 years – advances in technology, scientific understanding, and pedagogical practices have completely transformed universities yet the classrooms we taught in did not reflect the 21st Century. 

The latest education research has demonstrated that students learn best when they take charge of their own learning and work actively to construct scientific ideas rather than simply listening to an instructor’s lecture. For the Department of Science Education to provide “the North State with the highest quality science education for all learners,” as stated in our mission, we needed a classroom to serve as a model science learning space for the rest of the College and University. 

Science Education was lucky enough to be granted the use of Holt 291. The space was once a biology computer lab that then transitioned into half storage space and half math tutor lab. The primary advantage was that it offered an open floor plan and we quickly began transforming it into a flexible use, active-learning space for our core Liberal Studies science classes. Through a combination of departmental funds and startup funds contributed by Dr. Irene Salter, we furnished the room as a flexible project workspace with light-weight movable tables and chairs so that students can easily shift between different configurations (individual tables for small group work, clustered tables for large group work or lab stations, a circle of tables for group discussions, and rows of front facing seats where necessary). The room includes two large sinks, lab counters with storage, beautiful windows, and an instructor’s workstation with a projector and video player.  

Students and instructors came back from spring break 2012 to a beautiful surprise and we’ve been thrilled ever since. Come visit us in our new space!

before remodeled
A standard Holt science classroom

Holt 291 after the remodel

Salter Named Educator of the Year

Dr. Irene Salter was presented the Educator of the Year Award by the Chico Rotary on Tuesday, April 24th, 2012.

Salter earned this award for creating in her students a sense of empowerment and excitement about teaching science in their own classrooms. She emphasizes that science is a collaborative effort. Her students make comments such as, she allowed "all of us to be able to participate and explore science concepts...by collaborating" and "learning by doing has been a good learning experience."

Salter was recognized as an innovative educator for sharing in the development of a course, NSCI 321 Scientific Inquiry. Instead of attempting to deposit a collection of scientific facts into the brains of students, this course teaches students to build scientific knowledge in the same way scientists do. It is an impressive sight to see her classroom of students, previously filled with anxiety about science, engaging in genuine scientific debate not unlike that of veteran scientists.

Salter is a committed and caring teacher. Students often speak about her focus on their learning with comments like, "she is a very good teacher that wants us to understand everything." she was "easy to approach" and "very open to any questions." Her colleagues have also noted her student-centered approach. One of them wrote, "Dr. Salter did not simply sit at the front of the classroom, but spent the entire time engaging the students at their tables."

Monet Paper Published in Journal of Geoscience Education

Dr. Julie Monet and Dr. Todd Greene (CSU Chico Geology Department) have published a paper entitled "Using Google Earth and Satellite Imagery to Foster Place-Based Teaching in an Introductory Physical Geology Course" in the most recent issue of Journal of Geoscience Education. The paper examines methods of making learning more meaningful, by incorporating elements from the local and regional landscape into a semester long course project.

Students in an introductory physical geology course often have difficulty making connections between basic course topics and assembling key concepts (beyond textbook examples) to interpret how geologic processes shape the characteristics of the local and regional natural environment. As an approach to address these issues, Drs. Monet and Green designed and implemented a semester-long place-based group project, which used satellite imagery and Google Earth as a means to improve both students’ conceptual knowledge of geological concepts and their understanding of geological processes.

The project provided the underlying framework for both lecture and laboratory activities and was designed to reiterate and strengthen the connections across topics. Findings suggest that when given the opportunity and tools to develop a sense of place in the local and regional environment, students improve their conceptual knowledge and ability to apply critical thinking skills. Consequently, student learning becomes more meaningful and relevant to their everyday experiences.

Atkins Earns Professional Achievement Honors

The Faculty Recognition and Support Committee has selected Dr. Leslie Atkins for 2011–2012 Professional Achievement Honors. This honor recognizes faculty who have excelled as teacher/scholars during the past three years.  Atkins has earned two significant grants from the National Science Foundation, one as the principal investigator for “Student-Generated Scientific Inquiry” and the other as the co-principal investigator for “Building a Life Science Curriculum for Elementary Teachers.”

Dr. Atkins has become well known for her work on learning science by actually doing science.  She likens traditional science teaching to training soccer players by making them read the rulebook and listen to lectures on strategy.  She argues that athletes are trained predominantly by actually getting out on the field.  While often this field time only involves practice that simulates actual game conditions, it is nonetheless a far more effective method of preparing for the game, than just reading and listening.
Leslie Atkins has pioneered the technique of teaching science by getting the students “out on the field” and really doing science.  She emphasizes scientific debate as central to science learning.  These debates are informed by experiments conducted by her students as well as by their readings and assignments.  It is remarkable and delightful to stop by her classroom filled with future elementary school teachers and see a discussion not unlike a debate at a scientific conference.
Without Dr. Leslie Atkins’ outstanding efforts, the Department of Science Education would not have been able to revitalize science courses for future elementary teachers. Her work has earned the recognition of being a frequent invited speaker and workshop leader at conferences throughout the country.  In addition, she has made conference presentations worldwide. Leslie’s grants have provided the funding not only to provide much needed equipment, but also give her students the opportunity to pursue authentic scientific inquiry and debate. In summary, she is a transformative educational leader with a drive for innovation.