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National Research Council (US) Chemical Sciences Roundtable. Strengthening High School Chemistry Education Through Teacher Outreach Programs: A Workshop Summary to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2009.

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Strengthening High School Chemistry Education Through Teacher Outreach Programs: A Workshop Summary to the Chemical Sciences Roundtable.

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5Exemplary Programs

Major Points in Chapter 5

The ChemEd conferences held in odd-numbered years provide high school chemistry teachers with hands-on activities and other professional development opportunities.

The University of Pennsylvania Science Teacher Institute offers a master’s of chemistry education for high school teachers that has yielded significant increases in chemical content knowledge for participants.

The AirUCI Summer Workshop for Teachers uses issues being studied in the Environmental Molecular Science Institute at the University of California, Irvine, to immerse teachers of chemistry and other subjects in scientific concepts and lab activities.

Evaluations of the “Terrific Science: Empower Teachers Through Innovation” program at Miami University in Ohio, which has provided more than 22,000 teachers with inquiry-based science workshops, demonstrate that the program has had a substantial influence on classroom activities and student learning.

Many outreach programs have sought to improve the quality of high school chemistry teaching in the United States. Presenters at the workshop described four such programs in detail. The programs were not necessarily chosen to represent the best of all the programs that have been offered, but they demonstrate some of the ways in which chemistry instruction can be dramatically improved.


Since attending a chemistry education summer workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) at Michigan State University in 1965, Irwin Talesnick from Queens University has delivered somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 presentations at professional development sessions around the world. Such an outcome probably would not appear in a program evaluation, yet that 1965 workshop was the “defining moment” of his life, Talesnick said.

The ChemEd conferences originated not long after. Following the 1972 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education (BCCE), a group of high school teachers and chemistry professors decided to organize a similar conference directed primarily toward high school teachers rather than college and university faculty. Since 1973, the ChemEd conferences have been held in odd-numbered years, while the BCCE has been held in even-numbered years. The ChemEd conferences attract 800 to 1,000 attendees, with about 80 percent high school teachers and 20 percent college and university faculty (percentages approximately reversed for the BCCE). The publication Chem 13 News, an informal magazine published by the Department of Chemistry at the University of Waterloo, has helped build support for the ChemEd conferences.

Many teachers pay their own way to the ChemEd conferences because of the difficulty of gaining support for travel and attendance. To encourage teachers to attend, ChemEd organizers build in a family program, with child care, a science camp for children, and various family activities. “The families get a vacation out of it, which makes it easier for the chemist in the family to travel to a different area every two years, enjoy the chemistry, and enjoy whatever else there is to be enjoyed.”

The conference generally consists of four days of sessions, 50 percent of which involve hands-on activities, that encompass everything from 15-minute presentations to full-day sessions. Approximately one-third of the attendees at any conference have come to previous conferences, which is a measure of their success, said Talesnick. “Teachers have had only, in my experience, positive comments to make about the conferences.” Furthermore, teachers forge friendships and collaborations at the conference that they maintain for years even if they are in widely separated locations.

However, most chemistry teachers say that they cannot attend the ChemEd conferences because of the expense. Talesnick therefore has been seeking financial support for the conferences to reduce the registration fee and associated costs. “If we had support from governments, industry, and so on—some of which we get but not enough—the registration fees could be reduced, the number of people will rise, and the costs will decrease.” His other ambition is to make the conferences truly international, with attendance by chemistry teachers around the world. Achieving those two goals would have “a payoff for chemistry teachers, for universities, and for our students.”


The Rising Above the Gathering Storm1 report cited the University of Pennsylvania Science Teacher Institute as a model program for in-service teacher preparation. “That’s a great honor,” said program director Constance Blasie, but “it’s also a huge responsibility to provide excellent programming.”

The program is based on the hypothesis that increasing the content knowledge of science teachers and influencing their classroom practices will increase the content knowledge and change the attitudes of the students they teach. “It’s this hypothesis that drives our institute, drives our programs, and also drives evaluation,” Blasie said.

The program was developed by University of Pennsylvania chemist Hai-Lung Dai and has been funded by the National Science Foundation since 2004, with additional support from the Rohm & Haas Company, the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation, and the university. It is a collaborative effort of the School of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School of Education. It offers two degree programs—a master’s of integrated science education for middle school teachers and a master’s of chemistry education for high school teachers. The program also offers a Science Education Resource Center that is supplied with many items that teachers can use while in the program or borrow to take back to their classrooms. In addition, the program provides mini-grants for which teachers can apply and two-day professional development workshops that have been co-developed and are co-presented by one of the teacher graduates and a University of Pennsylvania chemist.

The master’s of chemistry education program began in the year 2000, so the ninth cohort of teachers began the program in fall 2008. To foster support for teachers within their schools and school districts, the program seeks to have each teacher attend with an administrative partner. As both partners learn about inquiry-based science, the administrators also learn what teachers need to make changes in their classrooms.

The program tries not to take teachers unless they have had more than two years of experience, so that they know how to manage a classroom and have decided that they want to remain in teaching. At the same time, many teachers in the program, who are drawn largely from the Philadelphia school district, are poorly prepared in chemistry.

Teachers take ten courses to earn a degree, eight on chemistry content and two on chemistry education. The program covers 26 months of coursework over three consecutive summers and two academic years, with the pedagogy courses delivered during the school year. The content courses, which are taught by chemists at the university, are organized not around lectures but around inquiry-based learning experiences. The courses also cover such topics as the nature of science, equity for students, and enduring understandings. The program relies heavily on technology and emphasizes nontraditional assessments. “This is not a program for everyone,” said Blasie. “Teachers have to be absolutely committed.”

To gauge its effects, the program has instituted an extensive evaluation effort. Two research associates work on internal and formative evaluations so that the program can make on-the-fly, real-time adjustments if its goals are not being achieved. As part of a broad external evaluation, the research associates also gather data on such topics as content knowledge and teacher understanding of the nature of science. Teachers take a specially designed chemistry content examination before they enter the program and again after they have completed all the coursework.

The content examination has revealed that teachers demonstrate a highly significant increase in chemistry content knowledge over the course of the program. They also develop a better understanding of the nature of science.

To assess changes in teaching practices, teachers prepare a baseline teaching portfolio at the beginning of the program that describes a four- to five-day lesson plan. At the end, they prepare another such lesson plan based on their thesis topic. Program evaluators then use a lesson plan analysis tool to analyze the two plans. The analysis shows that the later lesson plans reflect a much deeper understanding of how to deal with equity issues in the classroom, how to use technology, and how to encourage students to practice their own analytic skills. The one area in which they do not improve, Blasie noted, is in using formative assessments to understand what students know and what their misconceptions are.

Teacher and student questionnaires compare the characteristics of classrooms both before and after a teacher participates in the program. Results from both perspectives show significantly increased use of standards-based instruction once teachers have graduated from the program.

Measures of student performance have been hampered by the fact that different groups of students are being tested each year. However, a content examination given to successive groups of students showed that students of program graduates did significantly better than students of teachers before they entered the program. Also, student questionnaires revealed that students had a much better attitude about science after their teachers attended the program.

Much more can be done with evaluation data, Blasie noted. For example, the electronic portfolios that teachers keep could be probed for many different types of information. One interesting suggestion made during the question-and-answer period addressed the difficult issue of finding a control group against which to make comparisons. Eric Jakobsson from the University of Illinois discussed a project called Chemistry Literacy Through Computational Science. As a control, half of the teachers recruited to the program were delayed for a year and served as a control group for the teachers who began the program.


The AirUCI Summer Workshop for Teachers was founded in 2005 as an outreach program of the NSF-supported Environmental Molecular Science Institute, with additional support from the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation. Since 2005, four workshops have been offered that have served about 20 teachers in the region annually. Most are from public high schools and middle schools located near the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and most teach chemistry at least part of the day. Some also teach environmental science, physics, earth sciences, biology, and integrated sciences. Most have bachelor’s degrees, with a small number having Ph.D.s and a small number having no college degree at all. The workshop lasts for two weeks and teachers are paid a stipend of $1,000, which is less than they would get for teaching summer school. “We don’t have people who are in it for the money,” said UCI’s Sergey Nizkorodov. The program estimates that each teacher interacts with approximately 150 students per year. The program therefore is able to reach 3,000 additional students each year, along with the students’ parents and members of the community.

The hypothesis behind the program, said Nizkorodov, is that “if we convey enough excitement to the teachers, they’ll become better teachers and affect students that way.” The workshops involve faculty, graduate students, undergraduates, and doctoral researchers—“everyone who participates in the AirUCI Institute.” Prominent faculty at UCI deliver lectures on a wide variety of topics, including atmospheric chemistry, climate change, air pollution, the interaction of life and matter, surface science, and hydrogen bonds, and guest lecturers who are working at the institute provide talks on additional topics.

The workshop also features labs adapted from those that are offered to upper division undergraduate students, scaled down so they can be completed in four hours. The labs use equipment recently purchased and refurbished through a grant from the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation. Groups of three or four teachers work with a graduate student from the institute, with the graduate students receiving $1,000 for their assistance. For example, one lab uses spectrometry to measure the amount of alcohol in vodka; another measures the concentrations of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in cigarette smoke; another measures the particle removal of auto emissions by air purifiers; and another measures aromatic compounds in gasoline. A newly developed lab uses laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy to analyze metals. Besides five wet labs in each workshop, two computer labs are offered—one based on a model of air pollution in the Los Angeles basin and the other based on the greenhouse properties of various pollutants. Finally, at the end of the program, the teachers do a half-day lab tour of institute activities.

“We don’t do a very good job of evaluating our program,” said Nizkorodov. Mostly, the program has relied on self-evaluations by teachers immediately following the workshop. Recently, however, the program has been able to follow up with teachers in the previous workshops with an anonymous survey. When asked the question, “Have you been able to integrate any new information from this program into your course syllabi?” 84 percent responded, “Yes, to a certain extent.” An additional 13 percent responded, “My syllabi have changed significantly as a result of taking this course.” When asked the question, “Do you feel you are in a better position to discuss topics associated with climate change, air pollution, and atmospheric chemistry with your students and colleagues after participating in this program? “97 percent responded, “Yes, my understanding of these topics definitely improved a lot.”

Teachers have many opportunities to attend other workshops, Nizkorodov noted, though perhaps not with equipment as sophisticated as that available at the institute. The teachers at the workshops had attended an average of five to ten workshops before. The survey asked, If you attended more than one teacher development program over the last 10 years, please rate this program relative to the others. Thirty-two percent of the teachers felt that it was the best program they had participated in so far, while another 42 percent said it was superior to the other programs they had attended. When asked to rate the most effective aspects of the program, the majority of teachers cited the close interactions with faculty members, with the laboratory experience being the second-most cited factor.

The AirUCI Institute plans to continue the workshops for the foreseeable future, which may provide additional opportunities for evaluation. Nizkorodov also noted that the workshops provide a valuable opportunity for graduate students and postdoctoral researchers to learn to accept responsibility for training teachers and communicating with the public.


Since “Terrific Science: Empowering Teachers Through Innovation” was founded 25 years ago at Miami University in Ohio, more than 22,000 teachers have participated in the program. The leaders of other programs often ask how Terrific Science has reached such a large number of teachers, said Gil Pacey, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Miami University. The answer is that all of the workshops offered through Terrific Science, which range in length from a few days to two weeks, offer credit; Miami University has waived all tuition in most cases; and funding agencies have helped pay for housing and have offered stipends to teachers. “We hand out quite a lot of carrots,” Pacey said.

Terrific Science, a nonprofit organization run by Miami University’s Center for Chemistry Education, has produced more than 250 professional development programs; more than 80 books, kits, and other resources; and an online repository of more than 200 resources for teachers ( The program has received more than $16 million in federal, state, and private funding to increase scientific literacy and to stimulate interest in and understanding of science.

The vision of the program is to create engaging, motivating, and fun learning experiences. “We bring chemistry and the companion sciences to life for teachers and students at all levels,” said Pacey. Workshops are organized around hands-on activities, so that instructors do things with teachers and not for them. Teachers learn via modeling and constructive discourse and are encouraged to take risks in a supportive environment. In turn, teachers are encouraged and supported to take activities back to their schools and use them with their students. Students experience the fun and excitement of doing inquiry-based science rather than having science done to them. By nurturing students’ curiosity, science motivates them and inspires their innovation and creativity. Doing science this way also promotes critical thinking and problem solving, which is “absolutely necessary” in today’s economy, Pacey said.

The program partners with approximately 150 colleges and universities, 1,000 school districts across the United States and abroad, and 100 other organizations. For example, the South Korea Metropolitan School district recently sent 50 people for two weeks in two consecutive summers to participate in the program. Corporate partners also have used the program as a conduit to provide nearby schools with desperately needed supplies.

The Center for Chemistry Education has established a set of best practices that call for the extensive use of teacher leaders, mentoring teams, and collaboration with stakeholders, including government and industrial labs. The best practices also call for learning activities that are content rich, pedagogically strong, and extended over time. Teachers and administrators participate in curriculum development, implementation, and evaluation using what they have learned in workshops. For example, after learning to measure pollutant levels in lake water, participants in a workshop might be asked what kind of inquiry-based module they could develop for their students, given the constraints on equipment, supplies, and other resources. Teachers then implement the module in their classes, test it, improve it, and disseminate it to other teachers.

The program follows up with teachers for at least a year after each workshop. For example, teachers might meet with Terrific Science educators to discuss the implementation of a newly developed module. Some graduates of the program also become facilitators for other teachers and eventually teacher leaders who run workshops themselves. Pacey estimated that 10 percent of the teachers who go through the program give papers at regional and national meetings based on what they have accomplished. He also estimated that the average graduate of the program reaches 35 other teachers in the first two years after the workshop, greatly multiplying the program’s effects.

Pacey cited a number of lessons learned from the program. Scientific explanation without related experience has little impact on learners. Lifelong scientific literacy begins with the attitudes and values established in childhood. How physical science is taught is as important as what is taught. Instruction should build on children’s innate curiosity, provide firsthand experiences that involve all of the senses, be connected to everyday experiences and observable phenomena, and provide connections among ideas.

Evaluations of the program have shown that the students of participants spend more time doing laboratories that involve taking measurements and doing graphical analyses of data. The students of teachers reached by the program also spend more time testing student-generated hypotheses. In tests of physical science learning supported by the Ohio Board of Regents, post-test scores for students in grades 3 through 9 increased dramatically when their teachers had gone through these programs. “Teachers learned how to translate information to their students in a more effective way,” Pacey said.

Teachers’ comments about the program are extremely positive, as are comments from their students. In particular, students express more interest in science-related careers after their teachers have participated in the program.

The program also has found it necessary to do outreach to parents to convince them that science education is important for their children. But “we have a major public relations problem, probably across the whole country,” Pacey said. Ohio offers many examples of good and available jobs that are related to science and technology. For example, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton will need 7,000 bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. scientists and engineers to replace retiring workers in the next five years. “We don’t know where we’re going to get them, so we have to do a sales job on parents,” said Pacey. “We probably also have to do a sales job on [high school] counselors.”

National Research Council. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.



National Research Council. 2007. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Copyright © 2009, National Academy of Sciences.
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