Notes from session one: Trinity HHMI conference on Integrative STEM Learning

Just sharing some notes from Trinity’s HHMI conference on Integrative Learning in STEM.

Outcomes and goals generated at the 2012 general education cancer biology summit
Jonathan King (Trinity University)

  • Goals: overcome science aversion; students will understand and apply scientific method; help students evaluate information and claims about cancer
  • Learning outcomes: understand cancer risk factors; understand molecular basis of cancer,
  • Format: studio course which goes back and force between lecture and lab; need adequate space where everyone can see/hear, adequate safety infrastructure
  • Activities: traditional lab exercises; exploring scientific integrity; developed activity using GIS cancer incidence across space; web/Skype interviews with cancer survivors, participate in cancer fundraisers
  • Assessment: Clicker questions, science attitude survey, (pre and post-test)

Improving learning outcomes in large classrooms through short-term service-learning projects
Elizabeth R. Congdon (Bethune Cookman University)

  • Results of this Georgia Southern project were published in Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences
  • Definition of Service Learning
    According to Corporation for National Community Service, service learning integrates service projects with classroom learning; Activity is tied to learning outcome, not just character-buiding; NOT community service or “volunteering”; Learning is the focus; Creates real-world connection, motivation, ownership of what they’re learning; opportunity to interact with participants, stake-holders and experts (e.g. botanists, museum curators); reflection on the service work is key.
  • Why do service, instead of observation? instead of internships? other form of active learning?
  • Students have limited expertise, but even a senior’s level of experience ca be valuable to a non-profit organization.
  • Challenges: identifying appropriate community partners, getting partner to understand instructor’s learning goals, Overcoming student resistance
  • Great American Cleanup:  concentrated, short-term opportunity for many untrained workers
  • Farmers’ Markets, River cleanups
  • Impact on grades (higher) and attitudes (perception of environmental problems)

Linking research and teaching through museum collections and natural objects
Rebecca Rundell (State University of New York )

  • Using natural history objects in a flipped classroom approach
  • Real objects create an emotional connection to scientific fields; often used with kids, but adult learners can also benefit
  • authentic objects trigger emotional energy more than photographs or simulations; brings other senses to bear
  • not just warm fuzzy emotions, also disgus,t bad smells, etc. can trigger connection
  • teaching evolution with fossils; bring students into deep time
  • bring jars of fish collected 50 yrs ago vs today to see ecological degradation
  • objects can be memory cues
  • get students involved in collecting specimens
  • integrate objects into “settling in” time, as conversation starters before or after class
  • use objects in group work outside of class, prepare a lecture for their peers
  • benefits: better listening; group work helps female students learn;  overcome assumption that competency is an inborn talent that can’t be developed. girls attracted to helping and collaborative work, ink these traits to STEM.

Literature and Science meet at Eco-criticism
Jim Shinkle (Trinity University)

  • STEM course coupled with eco-criticism class taught by Goethe scholar Heather Sullivan
  • Students have to enroll in both classes, which always meet back-to back;  This allows for lab experiences, guest speakers or films that span both periods
  • STEM course:  The science of novel environments
  • Humanities course: World Literature and the Environment
  • Ecocriticism draws from STEM, but understanding is often shallow, starting with notions of ecological balance; much of the approach anthropomorphizes nature or attributes moral value to natural systems; worship and venerance of nature
  • Discussion of natural selection is a good entry point
  • Pastoral literature seen to celebrate nature, but really celebrates farming, which is culture
  • generating motivation; helping students see the connection to their lives and interests
  • discussion of aggression and competition in nature during study of conflict in a novel
  • Mendel in the Kitchen
    This is a technical support of genetically modified foods; learned to analyze rhetorical style as well as the science
  • literary analysis and close reading; science texts tend to speak in global language, universal statements
  • next time:  will unpack how to read and write in the disciplines; humanities want more close reading, less universal language
  • have had to exclude science majors; students takings it for science common curriculum requirement
  • peer tutors; science major and env studies major; very aggressive about communicating writing expectations to students
  • communicating xpectaions to students from different majors
  • stephen jay gould article respinning darwin


  • All of these case studies highlight the role of emotional connection and motivation to learning processes and outcomes, particularly for non-majors who are science averse; help get over the I-can’t-do-it, I’m-not good-at-science attitudes.  Building a community through shared activity.
  • How to model good presentations, let go of control.

About Claudia Scholz

Higher education administrator in Charlottesville, VA specializing in research development.
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