Collegiate Science and Mathematics Learning and Teaching (Part 2)
Reform efforts in science and mathematics education have received much attention over the last few years. Although much of the reform activity has focused on K-12 levels of education, there has also been significant activity at the college level. School Science and Mathematics has sought to provide an opportunity for its readers to to get a glimpse of some of the exciting developments at the college level and invited us to co-edit a special issue devoted to that theme.
National standards have been developed in both K-12 mathematics and science, yet no such standards exist for teaching and learning at the college level. Indeed, we believe that relatively few college- level instructors are cognizant of the K-12 math and science standards, and their potential implications for the college level are largely undeveloped.
Why are there no national standards at for math and science instruction at the college level? One major reason is that college teaching is highly individualized. Each college instructor develops his/her own course syllabus and objectives that reflect the instructor’s expertise. Courses do not adhere to state or national guidelines, as is the case for K-12 math and science teaching, and learning standards are often dictated by available textbooks in the field. The needs and values of the relevant department may necessitate some core background needed by students in order to pursue advanced courses, but each instructor essentially sets his/ her own standards. There are no statewide, standardized exams that must be passed by students, as is the case for K-12 instruction. Furthermore, college faculty are famous (notorious?) for their independent nature. College-level faculty who have a Ph.D. earn the degree by doing a new piece of research that hasn’t been done before. This requires creativity, persistence and much individual work. Therefore, college faculty tend to be highly individualistic in their endeavors, including teaching. Uniformity of teaching standards would be difficult to develop in an environment where the banner of academic freedom flies so proudly.
Nevertheless, there is the possbility that standards may develop for the large, introductory college level courses. At that level, there would more likely be agreement on what is expected for student learning. To our knowledge, no such attempt has yet been made (though the course descriptions of the College Board’s Advanced Placement program might provide some semblance of a starting point).
In undergraduate mathematics, the most visible reform effort of the last two decades has been in calculus. Several major calculus curriculum development projects were funded by the National Science Foundation in the early 1990′s, resulting in innovative efforts to make intelligent use of technology as well as employing cooperative and collaborative learning techniques in instruction. Clearly the calculus reform movement has had some lasting effects in curriculum, most notably in the major changes made to the College Board’s Advanced Placement programs in calculus in 1998. Calculus reform efforts have spawned additional reform efforts in undergraduate mathematics, extending to both precalculus and postcalculus (examples: differential equations and linear algebra).
Fueled in part by the needs to assess the results of curriculum and instructional reform efforts, interest in research issues in undergraduate mathematics education has grown by leaps and bounds. In 1993, the American Mathematical Society and the Mathematical Association of America formed a joint Committee on Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education (CRUME) and interest among collegiate mathematics educators has grown until the MAA recently formed its first Special Interest Group devoted to Research in Undergraduate Mathematics Education. (SIGRUME currently has the largest subscription rate of all Special Interest Groups of MAA).
Interest in undergraduate science education has similarly experienced recent growth. One now finds many more sessions at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) devoted to educational issues. Analysis of deeply rooted scientific misconceptions is one particular area of research in undergraduate science education. The Peer-Led Team Learning model (PLTL) is a notable example of an NSF-funded effort to employ collaborative learning techniques in the sciences, including biology, chemistry, and physics.
We should not be surprised that many of the issues in collegiate science and mathematics learning and teaching are similar to the issues in K-12 education. Indeed, it would be unnatural to expect a “jump discontinuity” in how students learn between their senior year in high school and their first year in college (even though many students may attest to a sudden change in how they are taught!). References to K-16 education are now common. Indeed, the nature of scientific inquiry and mathematical problem solving are themes that should justifiably receive emphasis over the entire life continuum of the learner.
The importance of an active interplay between science and mathematics education at the K-12 and college levels is perhaps most critical in the preparation of teachers. Future teachers whose own collegiate science and mathematics preparation is rooted in models of instruction antithetical to the reforms in K-12 science and mathematics can scarcely be expected to serve as “change agents” in the classroom.
In fall 2003, the journal announced a Call for Papers for a special October 2004 issue of School Science and Mathematics focusing on college level learning and teaching. We received many high quality manuscripts, each of which were subjected to three double-blind reviews. Although we had to turn away some promising papers on the basis of the reviews, we ended up with more manuscripts than could fit in a single issue. Hence, both the October and November 2004 issues of the journal have been devoted to the theme of collegiate science and mathematics learning and teaching.
We want to thank those individuals who submitted articles for review, and we encourage all authors to use the reviews as the basis for future studies. We would also like to thank our reviewers. Several of our reviewers were recruited based on their special expertise and experience with collegiate science and mathematics education, and we greatly appreciate the time and care they put into the reviews.
To the readers of School Science and Mathematics: we hope you find these special issues of the journal to be interesting and worthwhile. We have enjoyed the opportunity to work together as co- editors on this special project.
Departments of Biology/Science Teaching
103 Lyman Hall
Syracuse, NY 13244
Department of Mathematics
Oregon State University
Corvallis, OR 97331
Copyright School Science and Mathematics Association, Incorporated Nov 2004