Science Bowl Academic Competitions and Perceived Benefits of Engaging Students Outside the Classroom



The National Science Bowl® emphasizes a broad range of general and specific content knowledge in all areas of math and science. Over 20,00 students have chosen to enter the competition and be part of a team, and they have enjoyed the benefits of their achievements in the extracurricular Science Bowl experience. An important question to ask, in light of the effort it takes to organize and participate in regional or national science competitions, is whether the event makes a difference to the student. And if it does make a difference, does it improve student learning or student attitudes about science? In a preliminary survey, students competing in a Regional Science Bowl Competition report that the event has a positive impact and fosters learning in science and mathematics. These data support findings for other forms of extracurricular academic competitions associated with science and mathematics.


Since 1991, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Science Bowl® has been sponsoring annual regional and national competitions for high school students across the United States of America, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In addition to seeing the pragmatic value of increasing the “feed” of science-educated personnel into DOE research facilities, the DOE recognized that the improvement of science education, broadly, would be of great benefit to the nation. Expanding its focus beyond formal science education at the college level, the DOE started the Science Bowl program to encourage high school student participation and interest in math and science. The idea was to increase science literacy in general and to encourage science- and mathematics-related careers specifically. The success of the high school competitions resulted in the expansion of the program to include middle schools in 2002.

The competitions feature teams of four to five students answering multiple choice and short answer questions in the areas of science, mathematics, energy, and technology. There are currently 67 regional high school and 36 middle school competitions. The high school competitions involve more than 15,000 students and the middle school contests more than 6,000. The winning team from each regional event is invited to Washington D.C. to compete with other winners.

Participation in Science Bowl involves working as a team, and a team’s level of success is determined not only by scientific knowledge, but also by teamwork and gamesmanship. The students’ engagement in group work directly benefits the individual team members, their social groups, and society as a whole (Greif and Ephross 2011, 6). The actual team formation and function is itself a model for both future community engagement and civic activism. In fact, creating teams is one of the three principal strategies for successfully placing students in service-learning opportunities within communities. (Harris 2009).

The National Science Bowl® emphasizes a broad range of general and specific content knowledge in all areas of math and science. Science Bowl experiences are independent of the classroom environment and generally occur because the students have volunteered to enter the competition and become part of a team. Each team must have a coach, who can be a parent or other interested person, but is usually a high school science teacher. The volunteer aspect of the competition as an extracurricular activity means that it is similar to robotics competitions, the Science Olympiad, and other interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary, and applied endeavors. All of these programs stress the collaborative and communal nature of the projects over the content, a characteristic shared by other civic engagement and volunteer endeavors (Jacoby and Ehrlich, 2009).

An important question to ask in light of the effort it takes to run regional or national science competitions is whether the event makes a difference to the student. And if it does make a difference, does it improve student learning or student attitudes about science? The literature on science competitions is not extensive. Abernathy and Vineyard (2001, 274) asked students who competed in the Science Olympiad why they did so. The number one reason for participating in the Olympiad was that it was fun. The number two reason was that the participants enjoyed learning new things. These findings held for both male and female participants; they seemed to think learning science and math in this context was enjoyable. Abernathy and Vineyard suggested that competitive events “may be tapping into students’ natural curiosity and providing a new context for them to learn in, without rigid curriculum or grading constraints (2001, 274).”

Competitive events such as the National Science Bowl® may provide the “initial motivation” and catalyst for helping students to discover the joy of learning (Ozturk and Debelak, 2008). Academic competitions can provide motivation for students to study, learn new material, and reinforce previously learned material so that they will be ready to compete (and collaborate) with their peers from other schools both regionally and nationally—not just in games but also in academic and work environments. This type of motivation is difficult to provide in a normal classroom environment. While it can be argued that this is solely extrinsic motivation and that students should not be dependent on it, it can nevertheless serve as the spark that ignites a discovery of the joy of learning science and math.

One of the more important effective benefits of competitions like the National Science Bowl®, is that the participants, who may be the academic elite at their home schools (big fish in a little pond), must test their knowledge and skills against the students from other schools who will be their peers once they get to college and the workplace. Ozturk and Debelak (2008) note that students “learn to respect the quality of work by other children and to accurately assess their own performance in light of the performance of their intellectual peers. They achieve an accurate assessment of where their level of performance stands in the world of their intellectual capacity and, in turn, develop a more wholesome self-concept” (51) . Developing a more accurate and grounded self-concept is an important stage for children to go through on their way to becoming healthy and mature adults. This realistic and comparative self-assessment can be difficult to foster in the case of elite students who have never faced stiff competition or external challenges to their academic abilities in their home institution.

Students in academic competitions also benefit from learning not only how to succeed, but how to accept failure, learn from it, and, “subsequently, grow as a person and improve in performance” (Ozturk and Debelak 2008, 52). This, again, may be one of the most important aspects of intramural academic competitions, one that cannot be easily provided in a typical classroom environment; learning to fail and being able to cope with the emotional aftermath may be riskier in a classroom environment than in a games environment where the experience of failure is shared among the group. Being thrust into a situation where participants must deal with failure (even after they have prepared and done their best) promotes the healthy development of a student’s resilience and self-awareness. Academic competitions like the National Science Bowl® and its many regional competitions may provide the type of environment that helps students to reflect on their knowledge and abilities and self-evaluate their performance, promoting improved personal growth and development for the participants.

Certainly, extreme competitiveness can cause anxiety and undue stress (see for example Davis and Rimm, 2004). Many of us can remember learning in our Psychology 101 course about test anxiety and how it can negatively affect student performance and achievement and lead to low self-esteem. But Davis and Rimm also report that competition can increase student productivity and achievement. Some students seem to need to compete with others in order to push themselves to produce at a higher level. It would follow that socially organized competitions like the National Science Bowl® and its many regional competitions could help to promote high levels of achievement and productivity in the participating math and science students. Some of the increased levels of achievement and productivity may be due to the practice in teamwork and study skills promoted by participation in this type of academic competition. Bishop and Walters (2007) report that the students involved in competition increased their ability to be leaders and team players, especially in the areas of directed studying (“cramming”), communication, and stress management.

Most studies of this nature tend to be based on student reporting of their own perceptions, and Bishop and Walters also discuss the viability of using a self-report, Likert scale survey to investigate how the National Ocean Sciences Bowl (NOSB) influenced the participants’ choice of major and courses in college. They further triangulate their data using follow-up interviews, information on the colleges the students attended, and lists of the college courses the students took following their participation in the NOSB. Their longitudinal study, which took place from 2000–2007, establishes the credibility of the students’ self-reported data using this type of survey (Bishop and Walters 2007).

What Do the Students Get from This Competition?

A brief survey was developed for the students who compete in the Northern New England Regional Science Bowl Competition, for the purpose of gathering information about the students’ perception of the impact the competition has on them and other students. The questions were developed by the Regional Science Bowl coordinators and distributed to the students (also to coaches, volunteers, and audience) on the actual day of the competition, which takes place each year in late February or early March. The students in the Northern New England Regional Science Bowl Competition come from the three northernmost New England states, Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The competition is an extracurricular activity; the students in grades 9–12 have self-selected to be part of a team that practices and competes during non-school hours. The students making up the teams tend to be academically successful. As might be expected, these students usually like mathematics and science and are predisposed to participate in activities involving these subjects. The teams of students compete in a one-day event at the University of Southern Maine, which culminates in a single elimination tournament round. The winning team is offered an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington D.C. to compete with other regional winners for the national championship. Students at the regional bowl are given the survey. Completing and returning the survey is voluntary, although the students and coaches are made aware that their responses will help improve the event.

The Instrument

The first part of the survey was designed to collect general background information about the students and their role in the day’s competition. This section was a simple checklist:

  • This is my first experience.
  • I’ve been at previous science bowls here.
  • I was a volunteer today.
  • I am a spectator/guest.
  • I was one of the student competitors today.
  • I am a coach of one of the teams.

The next set of items was intended to gain insight into the students’ perceptions of how the regional competition affected the students who were taking part in the day’s activities and events. The questions consisted of three Likert-type response choice items:

1. I think this competition had a positive impact on the students:

2. Quiz competitions foster student learning about science and mathematics:

3. Quiz competitions are stressful in a negative way:

Each of these questions had a five-choice scale that ranged from strongly agree to neutral to strongly disagree. There were also two open ended questions:

The thing I enjoyed most about today was:

What I would recommend for next year:

And finally a yes/no question:

I’d like to come back next year.

Findings and Discussion

Data collection began with the 2004 Northern New England Regional Science Bowl Competition and continued through 2009. (After this year the Bowl was restructured and focused exclusively on Maine students, although participants continue to be surveyed.) This six-year longitudinal study has provided data representing a constant mix of new and returning students. Throughout the course of the study, there was an almost equal distribution of first-time and returning students who responded to the survey. Although the survey was distributed to students, coaches, and other volunteers who took part in the events, only the results of the student surveys were used as part of this report. The voluntary nature of conducting the study produced an average of fifteen percent of the students per year completing and returning the survey. Interviews with coaches and students indicate that the low response rate is most likely a result of its collection at the end of a long, intense day, when many teams were eager to start their journeys back to homes throughout northern New England.

Of the students participating in the Northern New England Science Bowl who responded to the survey during the study period, 93 percent either agreed or strongly agreed that the competition had a positive impact on them (Table 1).

Campbell and Walberg (2011) suggest that this type of positive impact follows the students throughout their life. Willingness to participate in events on their own time, especially during the weekend, demonstrates a high level of positive engagement that would foster feelings of positive impact. Akey (2006,16) reports that “student engagement and perceived academic competence had a significant positive influence.” on achievement. The survey results also suggest that the students perceive themselves as academically competent in math and science, and that is why they participate. This mirrors the findings of Abernathy and Vineyard (2001) who report that academic competitions tap into the natural curiosity and inclinations of students and provide an arena for them to learn new things. The science bowl event could provide the platform for these students to excel and receive recognition. Further, Ozturk and Debelak (2008) report that academic competitions may provide the motivation to find the joy in learning. Curiosity and motivation are important aspects of learning that would presumably have a positive impact on the lives of the participants in academic competitions like the National Science Bowl®.

Most (91 percent) of the respondents reported either that they agreed or that they strongly agreed that the Regional Science Bowl Competition fosters student learning in science and mathematics (Table 2).

These data again appear to support the research done by Abernathy and Vineyard (2001), indicating that academic competitions provide a forum to stimulate the students’ natural curiosity about learning new things, as well as the work of Ozturk and Debelak (2008), who have concluded that academic competitions may motivate students to discover the joy of learning.

The high positive response rate of these two questions indicates that the student participants in the Regional Science Bowl Competition are developing a strong positive sense of self. These responses, reinforced by our interviews of participating coaches, indicate that the students are reflecting on their experiences and developing a more complete self-image and perhaps an increased sense of their personal competence. Bishop and Walters report that an enhanced and comparative sense of personal competence or capability “translates as a very high factor influencing career choice” (2007, 69). It may well be that academic competitions such as the National Science Bowl® and its associated regional competitions provide experiences that positively influence student career choices.

Interestingly, the same students who reported that the Science Bowl Competition had such a positive effect on them in general, and a positive effect on their learning, did not necessarily think the competition was unstressful. Only 61 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the quiz competition was stressful in a negative way (Table 3).

Perhaps the wording of the question led students to equate “quiz” with “test,” which affected their response. It could also be that the students consider any kind of stress negative, and if they perceived that the competition created even a low level of stress, they would conclude that this was a negative effect.

In the open-ended question that asked what they enjoyed the most about the Science Bowl, the number one response was competition, the second most frequent response was meeting like-minded people, and the third was the hands-on nature of the activities. These students seem to be saying that they feel that testing their knowledge and skills in science and mathematics against other students of similar ability is fun! Maybe this is because they are beginning to form a deeper understanding of and respect for the quality of their work, as suggested by Ozturk and Debelak (2008). Academic competitions (such as the Science Bowl) may give students the opportunity to compete mentally the way athletic competitions allow them to compete physically (Parker 1998). Perhaps these students get the same kind of “high” that athletes get during competition, and the thrill of academic competition releases endorphins much the same way that athletic competition does.

The data indicate that a statistically significant portion of the students competing in the Northern New England Regional Science Bowl Competition report that the event has a positive impact on them and fosters learning in science and mathematics. These data support findings that have been reported for other forms of academic competitions that are involved with science and mathematics (e.g. Campbell and Walberg 2011). Self-reporting indicates that the students have a high level of perceived personal competence, a high level of engagement in mathematics and science activities, and a high level of motivation toward these academic subjects. In addition to increased involvement in the community, competence, engagement, and motivation are factors that have been linked to academic achievement, personal growth, and career choices. If the education community is seeking to increase student interest and participation in science and mathematics majors and in science and mathematics careers, and ultimately in complex science-related public policy discussions, then academic competitions like the National Science Bowl® may be an important part of the overall strategy bringing the nation closer to that goal.

A Proposal for Further Study

A key aspect of the Science Bowl competition is its role in building a social community of contestants, which leads one to wonder whether the competitions contribute to increased involvement in the larger community and whether they encourage participants to become more effective and engaged citizens. Participating schools are likely to return to the event, as are alumni who come back as volunteer officials. Further, with the release of recent studies, such as “Steady as She Goes? Three Generations of Students through the Science and Engineering Pipeline” (Lowell et al., 2009), we (the authors of this paper) feel an ethical responsibility to continue the investigation of whether science competitions represent meaningful contributions to the experience of students and their disposition towards science.

To better understand the impact of the Science Bowls on both STEM learning and civic engagement, we recommend that surveys be administered for all the National Science Bowl® middle school and high school competitions. The surveys should be standardized, with optional regionally based questions, and should be part of a well-designed study that can inform future science bowl decisions. An existing instrument, the Student Assessment of Learning Gains (SALG,, has survey questions that are geared towards formal academic courses but are a no-cost, accessible means to obtain data on students’ attitudes about science. Social media also provides opportunities for assessment and self-reporting of students. Surveys can be followed up by focus group interviews that could provide greater depth to our understanding of the findings. Such longitudinal studies could serve to verify whether or not these informal and volunteer learning experiences correlate with continued interest and involvement in science and mathematics, including choice of college majors, careers, and enhanced awareness and involvement in our most pressing science-related civic challenges, including climate change, public health, and technology.

About the Authors

Robert Kuech

Robert Kuech (Bob) taught middle and high school physics, chemistry, physical science, biology, ecology, computer programming for 20 years before returning to Penn State to work on a Ph.D. in science education. In 1999, when he finished his studies at Penn State, he came directly to USM and has served as the science educator in the Teacher Education Department since that time.

Robert Sanford

Robert M. Sanford (Rob) is Professor of Environmental Science and Policy and Chair of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham, Maine. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. in environmental science from SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry. His research interests include environmental impact assessment and planning, and environmental education. He is a co-director of the SENCER New England Center for Innovation (SCI) and is a SENCER Leadership Fellow.


Abernathy, T., and R. Vineyard. 2001. “Academic Competitions in Science: What Are the Rewards for Students?” The Clearing House 74 (5): 269–276.

Akey, T.M. 2006. School Context, Student Attitudes and Behavior, and Academic Achievement: An Exploratory Analysis. New York: MDRC. (Accessed July 7, 2014.)

Bishop, K., and H. Walters. 2007. “The National Ocean Sciences Bowl: Extending the Reach of a High School Academic Competition to College, Careers, and a Lifelong Commitment to Science.” American Secondary Education 35 (3): 63–76.

Campbell, J.R., and H.J. Walberg, 2011. “Olympiad Studies: Competitions Provide Alternatives to Developing Talents That Serve National Interests.” Roeper Review 33:8–17.

Davis, G.A., and S.B. Rimm, 2004. Education of the Gifted and Talented. 5th ed. New York: Pearson.

Greif, G., and P. Ephross. 2011. Group Work with Populations at Risk. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harris, J.D. 2009. “Service-learning: Process and Participation.” In Service-learning and the Liberal Arts, C.A. Rimmerman. ed, 21–40. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Jacoby, B., and T. Ehrlich, eds. 2009. Civic Engagement in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lowell, B.L., H. Salzman, H. Bernstein, and E. Henderson. “Steady as She Goes? Three Generations of Students through the Science and Engineering Pipeline.” Paper presented at the Annual Meetings of the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management, Washington, D.C. (Accessed July 7, 2014.)

Ozturk, M., and C. Debelak. 2008. “Affective Benefits from Academic Competitions for Middle School Gifted Students.” Gifted Child Today 31 (2): 48–53.

Parker, S. 1998. “At Dawn or Dusk, Kids Make Time for This Quiz.” Christian Science Monitor 90 (116): 49–54.

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Winter 2013: From the Editors

We are pleased to announce the Winter 2013 issue of Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal. This issue continues our mission of publishing articles that share innovations, insights, and assessment results with an international community of educators.

This issue begins with a Point of View article by Wm. David Burns, Executive Director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement at Harrisburg University and Principal Investigator of the SENCER, SENCER-ISE, and GLISTEN projects. The article is adapted from his remarks at the 2013 TUES Principal Investigators Conference in January 2013 and highlights the synergies, research, and challenges that have emerged during more than a decade of grant funding from the National Science Foundation.

In the Research Article section, a group of colleagues from Brigham Young University—Jessica Rosenvall Howell, Michelle Frandsen McDonald, Pat Esplin, G. Bruce Schaalje, and Gary M. Booth—describe a survey of faculty members, biology majors, and undergraduate non-majors., where each group was asked to rank what biology concepts they considered most important. There were significant differences among the groups’ rankings; for example, one of the greatest disparities was observed for the concept of “evolution.” This study reveals t how faculty members and students have different viewpoints about the same the same course material, and the authors provide suggestions for how this mismatch can be addressed.

This journal issue contains four contributions to the Project Reportssection. A team from the United States Military Academy at West Point provides an initial report about “Putting the Backbone into Interdisciplinary Learning.” These authors (Charles Elliot, Gerald Kobylski, LTC Peter Molin, Craig D. Morrow, COL Diane M. Ryan, Susan K. Schwartz, Joseph C. Shannon, andChristopher Weld) describe an interdisciplinary learning initiative organized around the concept of “energy.” In another report, G. González-Arévalo and M. Pivarski from Roosevelt University explain how they integrated real-world projects into a calculus II course with the goal of increasing student interest and engagement—examples include the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the spread of HIV/AIDS. Devin Iimoto(Whitter College) provides an account of integrating service-learning in a course on the biology and cultural context of AIDS. Finally, Kevin E. Finnand Kyle McInnis from Merrimack College describe the development of an “Active Science” curriculum in which physical activities are incorporated into science classes and after-school programs for middle-school children.

We want to thank all the contributors to this issue for writing and sharing these articles.

Trace Jordan and Eliza Reilly, Co-Editors-in-Chief

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Summer 2013: From the Guest Editor

It is with great delight and appreciation that I announce the Summer 2013 issue of Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal. The focus on community colleges demonstrates the inclusive and innovative thinking of the editorial staff whose mission is the publication of articles that share insights and assessment results with an international community of educators.

The interview with George Boggs sets the stage for understanding the growing role of community colleges in STEM education, both nationally and internationally. Boggs is President and CEO Emeritus of the American Association of Community Colleges where he served for over 10 years as a well-respected advocate for broad access and success in higher education. For this issue, he offers his perspective on barriers to STEM degree attainment, the global role of community colleges, and the criticality of relationships between educational institutions and businesses.

The issue also features a Teaching and Learning piece by Sreedevi Ande of LaGuardia Community College, that identifies the underlying quantitative reasoning skills embedded in the Project Quantum Leap and SENCER projects. In addition, Abour Cherif and Maris Roze of DeVry University, along with their colleague Dr. Matthew Bruder, have written a Project Report that details a learning activity designed to create healthy meals in order to counter nutrition-related diseases. Another Project Report by Mangala Kothari of LaGuardia Community College describes an essential tool used to measure student success in Project Quantum Leap. And Jeffrey Webb of Southern Connecticut State University has contributed a research article on how to integrate SENCER into a large lecture general education chemistry course. Finally, in a Point of View piece, Dennis Lehman of Harold Washington College in Chicago, reflects on how SENCER’s resources and strategies have impacted and helped improve curriculum, retention and faculty development at an urban community college.

Many thanks to all the contributors to this special issue and the educational champions they inspire!

Judy C. Miner
President, Foothill College

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Winter 2012: From the Editors

We are pleased to announce the Winter 2012 issue of Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal.This is one of our largest issues to date, which reflects the growth of high-quality scholarly work on teaching science within the context of important social and civic issues.

This issue opens with Part 2 of a Teaching and Learningessay by Wm. David Burns, Executive Director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement at Harrisburg University, PA (Part 1 of this article was published in the Summer 2011 issue). Reflecting on his experiences as the longstanding Principal Investigator of SENCER (Science Education for New Civic Engagements and Responsibilities), David shares his insights about “lessons learned” from the first 10 years of the SENCER project.

A Point of Viewcontribution comes from Orianna Carter(Ohio University Southern), who discusses the opportunities and challenges of teaching science at a rural campus in Appalachia.

In the Research Article section, Janice Ballou(an independent consultant) presents extensive survey data about how faculty teaching and their perspectives on students have been affected by the participation in the SENCER project. Her analysis of these data shows a widespread impact of professional development activities such as the SENCER Summer Institute.

In the journal section on Science Education and Public Policy, Joseph Karlesky (Franklin & Marshall College) contributes a thought-provoking article on how the use of scientific evidence to make public policy decisions is influenced by contested political interests. He proposes that science education would benefit from being more cognizant of how scientific information can be promoted, manipulated, or rejected during the political process.

We are pleased to have a broad selection of Project Reports that span a range of topics, including mathematics, public health, water quality, environmental science, and traffic analysis. Michael Berger (Simmons College), Jack Duggan (Wentworth Institute of Technology) and Ellen E. Faszewski (Wheelock College) discuss a collaborative curriculum project called The Environmental Forum, which promotes, community-building, and service-learning throughout the Colleges of the Fenway, located outside of Boston. The “trans-disciplinary” challenge of traffic issues in Los Angeles is tackled by an appropriately interdisciplinary team. This project has been developed by a group of faculty from Woodbury University–Nageswar Rao Chekuri, Zelda Gilbert and Marty Tippens, who have partnered with Ken Johnson (City of Burbank) and Anil Kantak (Jet Propulsion Laboratory). Another example of interdisciplinary synergy is provided by Urmi Ghosh-Dastidar and Liana Tsenova, both from the New York City College of Technology, who describe a project called Bio-Math Mapping. This project introduced mathematics and computer science students to the techniques of water quality analysis and applied them to two New York City waterways. After collecting authentic scientific data, students applied their knowledge of statistics to determine the risk from disease-causing and drug-resistant bacteria.

Reem Jafaar (LaGuardia Community College) provides a mathematics teaching module based on the serious problem of student debt, which is now attracting widespread national attention. Kathleen FitzPatrick (Merrimack College) describes course that is organized around contemporary health issues (immunization, obesity, immunization, etc.) and links these themes to service-learning projects. SALG-based assessment data of student learning gains reveals that the course design promoted improved understanding of the interplay between science and civic issues, in addition to other documented gain. The final project report is a contribution from a faculty team at Indiana State University—Peter J. Rosene, M. Ross Alexander, and James H. Speer—who describe the implementation and assessment of the SENCER educational model within the introductory laboratory courses in the natural sciences. They evaluate how the change in educational approach affected student’s perceptions of teaching effectiveness in comparison to a more traditional curriculum.

In conclusion, we wish to express our thanks to all the authors who have contributed to this issue of the journal.

Trace Jordan and Eliza Reilly, Co-Editors-in-Chief


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Summer 2012: From the Editors

We are pleased to announce the Summer 2012 issue of Science Education and Civic Engagement: An International Journal.

Vance High and James Rye at West Virginia University have contributed a research article titled “Engaging within Time Limits: An Integrated Approach for Elementary Science.” This article describes a creative approach to teaching inquiry-based environmental science in elementary school by linking it to children’s literature. Using this linkage strategy, the authors measured positive changes in the attitudes of pre-service elementary school teachers towards teaching science.

The four project reports in this issue present a diversity of topics, including quantitative reasoning, bacteriology, and ecology. A team of educators — Abour Cherif (DeVry University), Farahnaz Movahedzadeh (Harold Washington College), Linda Michel (DeVry University Online) and Nancy Marthakis (Purdue University North Central) — use interesting discoveries about our body’s bacterial neighbors to promote active learning in biology classes. Marina Dedlovskaya and Patricia Sokolski, both from LaGuardia Community College, explain the benefits of integrating a reflective component into a quantitative reasoning course, which included civic topics such as recycling and calculating a personal ecological footprint.

Mark Fink, M. Leigh Lunsford, Suzanne M. Donnelly, Melissa C. Rhoten, Kelsey N. Scheitlin, and Alix D. Dowling Fink, all at Longwood University in Virginia, use the Chesapeake Bay, North America’s largest estuary system, as a meaningful location for active learning and civic engagement.

Finally, David Green at Florida Gulf Coast University shows how integrating emerging technologies into two non-majors ecology courses can stimulate students’ creativity while providing valuable interactive resources for local communities.

We wish to express our gratitude to all the authors who have shared their interesting research and educational projects with the readers of this journal.

Trace Jordan and Eliza Reilly, Co-Editors-in-Chief


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Winter 2011: From the Editors

This issue of the journal presents a diverse collection of articles and reports that demonstrate the effectiveness of using civic questions to enhance science learning.

Two of the articles address the role of pedagogy in improving science learning among female students. J. Kasi Jackson (West Virginia University) and Jane Caldwell (Washington and Jefferson College) discuss the use of feminist pedagogies within a large science course for non-majors. For readers interested in attracting more diverse students to undergraduate science majors, Ellen Mappen (National Center for Science and Civic Engagement), David B. Knight and Stephanie L. Knight (both of Pennsylvania State University) provide a valuable review of current literature on how civic engagement pedagogies can increase the representation of women undergraduates in STEM disciplines.

The other four articles in this issue exemplify the rich potential offered by environmental problems to teach a wide range of topics in science and mathematics. Peter Bower (Barnard College), Ryan Kelsey and Frank Moretti (both of Columbia University) have written a research article on the multi-year implementation and assessment of their innovative simulation called Brownfield Action. Abour H. Cherif and Linda Michel (DeVry University) have collaborated with Farahnaz Movahedzadeh (Harold Washington University) to develop and teach an engaging role-playing activity on the environmental release of genetically modified mosquitoes as a strategy to control malaria. Turning to mathematics, Thomas J. Pfaff, Ali Erkan, Jason G. Hamilton, and Michael Rogers (Ithaca College) have linked their teaching of calculus to an evaluation of climate change. To conclude the issue, W. Lindsay Whitlow (Seattle University) has partnered with Sara Hoofnagle (Einstein Middle School) to contribute an article with the wonderfully evocative title of Mud, Muck, and Service.

As always, we wish to thank all the authors for sharing their work with the readers of this journal.

Trace Jordan and Eliza Reilly, Co-Editors-in-Chief


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Summer 2011: From the Editors

This issue of the journal opens with the first installment of a two part essay by Wm. David Burns, which is based on his welcoming address at the 2010 SENCER Summer Institute at Asheville campus of the University of North Carolina. [more] As many of you already know, David has been a longtime advocate of engaged science education through his roles as Executive Director of the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement at Harrisburg University; as Principal Investigator of the SENCER and GLISTEN projects; and as the publisher of this journal. In part one, David reflects on the conceptual foundations of the SENCER approach and its goal of creating a critical intersection between science education and practice and democratic education and practice. In part two, to be published in the next issue of SECEIJ, he will summarize some of the lessons learned from over a decade of experience with SENCER-inflected STEM education reform.

In the category of Teaching and Learning, Farahnaz Movahedzadeh (Harold Washington University) explains the pedagogical strategy of “blended learning” — which includes both classroom and online components — and shows how this method improved students’ attitudes towards science. The article is accompanied by an essay written by a student in the course, Eric Wozniak, who shares his first experience with a blended/hybrid course.

The issue contains three Project Reports that address diverse approaches to effective science teaching in the context of civic issues. Susan M. Mooney and Karen L. Anderson (Stonehill College) describe a collaboration between college students and community partners to design and implement innovative science instruction in resource-limited urban classrooms. Alan J. Friedman(a distinguished consultant for museum development and science education) and Ellen F. Mappen (National Center for Science and Civic Engagement) provide an introduction to the new SENCER-ISE project, which is establishing connections between formal and informal science educators with the goal of advancing STEM learning. Science and math educators who teach in traditional classroom environments can learn valuable lessons from the strategies of engagement that are used by the informal education community.

Many issues of civic importance are connected to the generation and consumption of energy. As a resource for educators, Pamela Brown (New York City College of Technology) and Heather Brown(University of Aberdeen) have written a Science Education and Public Policyarticle that examines the relationship between energy policy and technological innovation in the United States. They provide extensive data to show how the R&D investment in renewable energy sources is affected by the price of oil – lower oil prices correlate with fewer renewable energy patents – and how this pattern is repeated cyclically within the U.S. economy, which leads to a lack of long-term strategic planning for renewable energy development.

We wish to thank all the authors for sharing their work with the readers of this journal.

Trace Jordan and Eliza Reilly, Co-Editors-in-Chief


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Summer 2010: From the Editors

This issue of the journal continues our tradition of publishing peer-reviewed scholarship that uses issues of civic importance to enhance science and mathematics education.

We are pleased to highlight three articles in a featured section on “Mathematics and Civic Engagement.” Rikki Wagstrom from Metropolitan State University (Minneapolis, MN) contributes a research article titled “Teaching Pre-College Algebra Mathematics Through Environmental Sustainability: Curriculum Development and Assessment.” Prabha Betne provides a project report on “Project Quantum Leap,” an innovative mathematics curriculum at LaGuardia Community College in New York City. A second project report by Laura Jacobsen and Jean Mistele at Radford University (Radford, VA) describes challenges and effective strategies when introducing social issues into a mathematics education curriculum for pre-service teachers.

This issue also includes a “Teaching and Learning” section in which the authors share strategies to promote student learning and engagement. Antonio Villaseñor and Farahnaz Movahedzadeh from Harold Washington College (Chicago, IL) describe the impact of inviting a research scientist as a guest lecturer in a community college biology course. We should also mention that the first author of this article is an undergraduate student at the college. On a different topic, a team of three authors – B.D. Stillion and J.M. Pratte of Arkansas State University (Jonesboro, AR), and A. Romero of Southern Illinois University–Edwardsville (Edwardsville, IL) – describe their use of “Science in the Cinema” to examine and challenge students’ stereotypes of scientists.

The remaining articles in the issue contain a diverse set of project reports that provide insights into teaching molecular biology, connecting physics with service learning, and engaging non-majors with the chemistry of global warming. We wish to thank all the authors for sharing their work with the readers of this journal.

Trace Jordan and Eliza Reilly, Co-Editors-in-Chief


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Citizen Science and Our Democracy

The theme for the National Center for Science and Civic Engagement’s 2009 Washington Symposium and Capitol Hill Poster Session was “citizen science.” The term usually describes the observation and data gathering activities of ordinary people, often working from or near home, and assisting a research scientist or team in a project. We were interested in a slightly different meaning of the term, however — one that would invoke scientific literacy and numeracy as essential capacities for citizens conscientiously engaged in a modern democracy.[more]

We asked: What do we really need beyond a basic understanding of the scientific method, or discrete mathematics, or elementary statistics, to make sense of the complex civic questions we face today and will face in the future? More fundamentally, though, we wanted to explore what scientific practices and democratic practices have in common. How are the two “projects” related? And what should we do to encourage each to reinforce and strengthen the other?

For help in thinking about this, we turned to one of the handful of citizen scientists currently serving as a member of Congress, Representative Rush Holt of New Jersey. A thoughtful public servant who formerly worked in the Plasma Physics Laboratory at Princeton University, Holt graced our meeting with an original, nuanced, and encouraging address. He reminded us of the common roots of science and democracy in the Enlightenment. He reviewed the critical role that science played in what I have elsewhere called “the making of our democracy.” Echoing C.P. Snow’s critique of more than 50 years ago, he lamented the separation of the scientific and non-scientific communities into “two cultures.” Lastly, he suggested how we might begin to bridge these gaps.

We asked Mr. Holt for permission to transcribe his remarks and to include them in this issue. The man whose campaign bumper stickers playfully assert, “My Congressman IS a Rocket Scientist,” kindly assented and we are pleased to present his thoughts to you.

— Wm. David Burns, Executive Director, NCSCE

Representative Holt’s Remarks

[image 20249 left border]I’m really pleased to recognize the role of Rutgers in sowing the seeds for this SENCER program. It is, I think, tremendously important. I’m delighted to see you, and to see your posters, and to hear about the programs at the various universities, and to run into some old friends like Will Dorland from Maryland, who was at the Plasma Physics Laboratory when I was assistant director there at Princeton.

This is almost to the day the 50th anniversary of C.P. Snow’s address on “!e Two Cultures.” Snow’s was an interesting observation at that time, but the cultural divide Snow described has turned into, at least in this country — and I would venture to say in other countries — a critical problem that, I think, puts us at risk in a number of ways as a society. C.P. Snow, a chemist, government advisor, novelist, and otherwise diversely oriented person was talking about England 50 years ago. But his analysis applied equally well to the United States, because at the same time we launched — and “launched” is the right word following the launch of Sputnik — into an education program in the United States that really did divide our society into the two cultures of scientists and non-scientists. !is divide persists to this day.

Following Sputnik, we set in place an educational system that was intended to produce a generation of scientists and engineers the likes of whom the world had never seen. Our initial motivation was fear and our justification was national defense. And indeed, we have produced generation after generation of the world’s best scientists and engineers.

However, we have relegated them, or allowed them to relegate themselves, to a compartment of our society, of our economy, and of our political world, and we have relegated everyone else to the extra-scientific area. !at’s dangerous. So it was music to my ears, really, when President Obama, in his inaugural address this year said, “We will restore science to its rightful place.”

Now, he made this promise in a section of his address dealing with the economy. And of course, the theme of his inaugural address was, “We’re in deep trouble, economically.”

The President was making the point that investment in science is important for us to be able to grow out of our economic problems.

But that statement — that we will restore science to its rightful place — is much richer than to say that science produces jobs. Of course, science does produce jobs, which it does, even in the short term. !at is why it’s great that there is a lot of money for science in the economic stimulus bill that was passed by Congress and signed by the president. It provides $22 billion of new research money.

But the president was saying a lot more than that science creates jobs in the short term. He was also saying that science creates jobs, productivity, and economic sustenance in

the long-term. And he was saying quite a bit more than that, when he said we will restore science to its rightful place. He said that we will do away with the kinds of censorship and stifling of science — ideological stifling of science — that has undermined a basic principal of the United States. The United States has had, over the centuries, really until roughly fifty years ago, a very scientific bend. It was not a coincidence that the guys — and they were guys, sorry to say — who wrote the Constitution called themselves in many cases, “natural philosophers.” Back then, that was the equivalent of our word scientist today.

The founders were thinking like scientists; they were asking questions so they could be answered empirically and verifiably. That’s what science is. It is a system for asking questions so you can answer those questions empirically and in a way that others can verify your empirical tests for those answers.

Every shopkeeper, every farmer, every factory owner throughout American history has had this scientific tradition. It was common for Americans to think about how things work and how they could be made better and made to work better.

We’re at a time now where, if I talk to most of my colleagues in Congress, most of your colleagues at the college or university, or any American on the street, however well educated, however able, however smart, they will likely say, “Oh, science, oh no, I’m not a scientist. I can’t understand that, that’s not for me.”

And thus we are deprived of the scientific way of thinking. The scientific way of thinking is important not just for developing new technologies, but for creating the kind of self-critical, self-correcting, evolving society we need to create. The whole balance of powers in our constitution, the whole idea of openness that we embrace as a democracy, these are very scientific in nature.

It is so important that we try to bridge this chasm, merge these two cultures, so that no educated person in America would ever say, “Oh, that’s science, I can’t think about that.”

Your courses are so good because you work at from both directions. Much of my career has been as a teacher, and any teacher will tell you, the first challenge is motivation. You know, there is nothing you can teach. That’s the dirty little secret that faculty members sometimes learn. You can only help students learn.

Students have to have some reason to do the work, a purpose for learning the material. You provide that purpose in many cases by reminding them that learning has to do with the quality of their life in areas that they may never have thought had anything to do with science. You have shown them that they don’t have to wear lab coats or do equations in order to bring a scientific understanding, and more important, a scientific frame of mind, a kind of questioning attitude, to their lives, their work, and their roles as citizens.

Looking for empirical answers and independent verifications is essential to help find the answers to the important questions in daily life, whether it’s trying to decide what kind of soap to buy, or what kind of college to attend, or what kind of candidate to vote for. In what you do in your courses I see an attempt to provide for students that very kind of motivation.

But you also are working at it from the other end, nudging the scientists to move out of their culture. You are helping scientists understand that non-science students at the university — and the 80 percent of the American population who say science is not for them — are not just a necessary nuisance in their lives, but really the whole reason that we practice science.

Why do we practice science? So that we can have a better quality of life, so that we can understand how the world works, get along with each other, and provide for the needs, and not just material needs, the needs of the people and society. You know, I’d like to say that President Obama thinks like a scientist. He might dispute that, but I see it in how he conducts meetings. I see how he asks questions in a way that they can be answered empirically with evidence. He asks questions with an open mind, recognizing that the answer to the question must necessarily be regarded as provisional. You know every scientist — every physicist anyway — has somewhere in the back of his mind or her mind that whatever it is you think about how the world works, how this subject works, what is known about plasma physics or planetary science, is provisional. !ere might just be a patent clerk in Switzerland who has a little different idea or maybe even a very different idea. And empirically, some day that patent clerk’s ideas might supersede everything you thought you knew.

It is this kind of thinking that has made science so successful. Science gives a kind of reliable knowledge, provisional though it may be, that allows people to improve their lives.

It is this kind of thinking that allows citizens to improve their government. It is why we are the oldest surviving constitutional government in the world, because the authors were thinking like scientists, and they set up a system that allowed us to keep thinking like scientists.

Every business major and English composition major that you bring in to your classes is not just someone who can have the beauties of science unlocked for them in a small way. It may be that this student will be the citizen who will help move our society along through scientific thinking.

You are doing a favor for each faculty member you nudge out of her or his narrow specialty to be exposed to the great unwashed non-science student body. You are doing a great favor by reminding them their science is all about. They’re not doing science for their own esoteric entertainment. A few might be, but that is not why the National Science Foundation puts out billions of dollars a year. That is not why this Congress is interested in science. We are interested and making investments because of what this means for our society and the welfare of all of these people who are in this nation conceived in liberty and dedicated the proposition, that all, not just those who did differential equations, or you know, spectrophotometry, are equal, and deserve the benefits of our society.

So what you are doing is the missing link between things that the NSF, and the NIH, and NIST and others have funded for years. And what all the rest, the 80 percent non-scientific society have not only been deprived of, but have ignored for all these half-century, roughly speaking.

So thanks for doing what you do. I hope you understand the importance of what you are doing. I certainly do. And I thank you very much.

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Winter 2009: From the Publisher

This Winter 2009 issue of Science Education & Civic Engagement: An International Journal is highlighted by several changes in leadership and design.

First, we would like to welcome two new members to our editorial team. Eliza Reilly joins Trace Jordan of New York University as co-editor of the journal, while Marcy Dubroff has been appointed managing editor. [more] Eliza and Marcy are both based at Franklin & Marshall College, the new home of the journal, and boast a wealth of experience in both publications management as well as connecting science education and civic engagement.

Eliza is the director of the Phillips Museum of Art at F&M and the former director of its Center for Liberal Arts and Society. Previously she was director of programs in the Office of Science, Health, and Student Engagement at AAC&U, working on the SENCER and PHHE programs. From 1996–2001, she also served as the executive director of the American Conference of Academic Deans, a national organization of chief academic officers and other academic administrators committed to improving undergraduate liberal education. Eliza received an M.A. in art history and a Ph.D. in American history from Rutgers University and is a Senior Scholar with the SENCER project. She also serves as the general editor and coordinator of the SENCER Model Series.

Marcy has spent more than 20 years in higher education and currently serves as the director of Franklin & Marshall’s Clemente Course in the Humanities. She has also worked in various capacities including sports information, public relations, and as a photographer. She was the co-founder of the groundbreaking website College Lacrosse USA, which was purchased by Street & Smith’s Sport Annuals, a division of Conde Nast Publications in 2000, and is the editor of the award-winning newsletter Liberales, a publication of Franklin & Marshall’s Center for Liberal Arts and Society. She earned her B.S. with distinction from Cornell University.

We would also like to welcome several new members to the editorial board of SECEIJ:

Shree Dhawale is Associate Professor of Biology and Honors Program Director at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. She is a broadly trained molecular geneticist with research interests in regulation of gene expression, biotechnology, molecular cloning, and use of herbal extracts for inhibiting cancer cell proliferation.

David Ferguson is Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the Department of Technology and Society at Stony Brook University where he holds a joint appointment in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics. His research and teaching thrusts are in the areas of problem solving, advanced technologies in the learning and teaching of mathematics and science, and socio-technological decision making.

Robert Franco is Director of Planning and Institutional Effectiveness at the University of Hawaii, Kapiolani Community College. He is a recognized expert on contemporary

Samoan, Polynesian, and Pacific Islander demographic, ecological, health, and cultural issues.

Cindy Kaus is Associate Professor of Mathematics at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, Minnesota. An advocate of incorporating civic issues in mathematics to

reach groups of students typically underrepresented in the STEM disciplines, she has directed and co-directed various grants leading to curriculum reform in mathematics.

Theo Koupelis is Associate Dean of Math and Sciences at Edison State College in Fort Myers, Florida. He has published research on the theoretical modeling of outflows

from compact astrophysical objects and is the author of the introductory astronomy textbook In Quest of the Universe.

Kirk Miller is the B.F. Fackenthal Jr. Professor of Biology at Franklin & Marshall College where he teaches biostatistics, epidemiology, vertebrate anatomy, and comparative

physiology. He is a comparative physiologist and biostatistician with a principal interest in how the embryonic environment affects embryonic growth and neonatal fitness.

Amy Shachter is the Associate Provost for Research Initiatives at Santa Clara University. Her research interests center on porphyrin synthesis.

Garon Smith is Professor of Chemistry at the University of Montana. He is an analytical/environmental chemist with broad interests in air and water characterization.

Mary Tiles is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Hawaii and now resides in the United Kingdom. Her research interests focus on the applied uses of mathematics, measurement, and modeling in both Chinese and European contexts.

In addition, this issue debuts our new journal design, created by John Svatek of Kerning Pair Design, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Early next year, we will augment the PDF version of SECEIJ with a new and improved website. We invite you to download this issue of the journal and to connect with the work of colleagues both in the United States and abroad. We also hope you will send us your thoughts and comments on how we can continue to improve SECEIJ.

Table of Contents
 Point of View Citizen Science and Our Democracy  Wm. David Burns
 Point of View Science and Civic Engagement in the Developing Democracy of Georgia Lali Gogeliani, Mzia Zhvania and Nana Japaridze 
 Project Reports Preparing Future Teachers Using a SENCER Approach to Positively Affect Dispositions Toward Science Mark L. Fink
 Project Reports Quantifying the Atmospheric Impact and Carbon Footprint of an Urban Biomass Incinerator John M. Zobitz
 Research Article SENCERizing Preservice K–8 Teacher Education: The Role of Scientific Practices Amy H. Utz and Richard A. Duschl
 Review Article Emerging Topics in the Study of Life on Earth: Systems Approaches to Biological and Cultural Diversity Nora Bynum, Eleanor Sterling,  Brian Weeks, Andrés Gómez, Kimberley Roosenburg, Erin Vintinner, Felicity Arengo, Meg Domroese, and Richard Pearson 

— Wm. David Burns, Publisher




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