Project Kaleidoscope promotes ‘brains-on’ learning

Impact, Summer 2003




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According to UDM Biology Professor Stokes Baker, the goal of Project Kaleidoscope, a national program in which UDM is participating, is "to learn to teach science better.

"Our focus is on critical thinking and designing our own experiments, not the cookbook stuff," he continues. "The new learning is more interactive and ‘brains on.’"

Project Kaleidoscope (Pkal) is a national alliance in which colleges and university faculties are identifying and exchanging best practices in teaching the various aspects of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

At UDM, Engineering & Science Dean Leo Hanifin has identified Baker (Biology), Mark Benvenuto (Chemistry), Jeff Boats (Math and Computer Sciences) and Greg Grabowski (Biology) as members of the "Faculty of the 21st Century" to lead the reform in how to teach the sciences better.

The team participates in workshops and meetings that examine what makes an effective department. Among other factors, they are exploring what works, what is learned, how is it learned, where is it learned, and the roles and responsibilities of the school and faculty. The concept can affect everything from planning academic programs to physical facilities for "research-rich learning."

Chemistry Professor Mark Benvenuto (pictured at right) described some examples of changes in the classroom as a result of Pkal, including:

  • moving to inquiry-oriented labs in which students receive "vague"instructions that require them to think about how to conduct experiments
  • conducting more interactive classes in which students get involved "at the board"
  • encouraging more small-group discussions.

For example, students in Baker’s Ecology Laboratory course must perform an extended experiment of their own design to produce a lab ecosystem that is self-contained and self-sustaining. This project mimics the activities of the practicing scientist.

"The ‘answer’ is not known in advance of the experimentation," Baker says, "and their discoveries must be disseminated."

The students have posted their research results on the course’s web site so that the next round of students can learn from their discoveries.

"As a result, students learn that the process of scientific discovery is incremental in nature," Baker explains. "In addition, Project Kaleidoscope-inspired teaching materials are exposing freshmen to the practice of science."

"The intent is that as the process evolves, we will grow our own 21st Century teachers and leaders as our students of today enter the marketplace, Baker explains. UDM has participated in Project Kaleidoscope for more than nine years.

Related to the changes in teaching and the classroom, Baker adds that the Biology department recently received a National Science Foundation grant to install controlled-environment chambers in the Ford Life Sciences Building. In addition, beginning this fall, students in General Biology Lab will perform experiments on genetically engineered plants to assess how they perceive changes in the environment.


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