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Posted 09.08.06

 
 
   

Curriculum Overhaul to Help MU Science Students 'Think Critically'

Workshop being planned with faculty and graduate students from other Missouri colleges

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Students conducting experiments in science lab classes at the University of Missouri-Columbia will be required to do more than just add one drop of this, two drops of that and see what they get. In an effort to increase student involvement, critical thinking and analysis, various MU undergraduate lab courses will soon get a curriculum overhaul.

Frank Schmidt, Sandra Abell and John Adams.The University, through its departments of biochemistry and chemistry, Science Education Center and Honors College, has received a $450,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to revamp science lab activities to increase student inquiry and participation and make the subject more interesting - even for non-science majors. The grant, which started Sept. 1, involves several MU colleges and departments. Faculty members and graduate students from University of Missouri-Kansas City, St. Louis Community College and Columbia College also will participate in the program.

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MU organizers are in the initial stages of planning a workshop next summer that will include 25 faculty members and graduate students from the participating institutions. During the session, each participant will contribute two lab assignments that will be revised. They will take "cookbook" type assignments and transform them into inquiry-orientated activities, allowing students to play greater roles in planning and conducting investigations. Along with aiming to improve overall knowledge of the subject, the focus also is to establish common procedures for student involvement. A catalog of the 50 revised activities will later be made available on compact disc for participating faculty to use in lab classes at their respective institutions. At MU, about 10 classes will incorporate the retooled activities.

"The idea is to get students to understand and benefit from science by putting together a hypothesis, generating ideas and carrying out experiments that pique their curiosity," said Frank Schmidt, professor of biochemistry in College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, who will serve as principal investigator. "Science is inquiry. It's not fact; it's a process. We want students to understand how experiments are put together, how something works, whether something is true or if the information is something we already know. We want them to get out of the cookbook mentality and into the critical thinking part of science."

Working with Schmidt will be Sandra Abell, professor of science education in the College of Education and College of Arts and Science and director of the Science Education Center; John Adams, professor of chemistry in the College of Arts and Science; and Jan Weaver, research assistant professor of biological science in the College of Arts and Science, director of Environmental Studies and assistant director of the MU Honors College. Schmidt said students enrolled in labs using the redesigned curriculum will be assessed at the end of each semester to determine the program's effectiveness. He also said data will be compiled monitoring the academic performance of students from diverse backgrounds, as well as those from different college and university settings.

"This is about taking students one step further," said Schmidt, who for nearly 10 years, along with Weaver and Adams, has developed lab activities that result in more inquiry and participation. "This is about getting students involved in the intellectual process of doing science. Science is part of critical thinking. Thinking critically is valuable regardless of what career a student chooses."

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