Improving how science is taught

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May 29, 2014

Michigan State University has been awarded $1.5 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to expand efforts for students in science to learn effectively, especially those who belong to groups underrepresented in science.A $1.5 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will study ways to improve the teaching of science. The College of Engineering will share the funds with other MSU colleges.

The initiative will involve personnel from MSU's colleges of Engineering, Natural Science, and Education, along with Lyman Briggs College, the BEACON Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, Center for Engineering Education Research and others across campus.

The five-year award will be used by MSU to improve introductory courses that serve as gateways to continued studies in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said R. Sekhar Chivukula, associate dean of MSU’s College of Natural Science and the grant’s coordinator.

“Michigan State University has a strong record of student success in the STEM fields, and we are committed to doing even better,” he said. “The investment by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will allow us to expand our efforts to graduate a larger number of highly trained mathematicians, scientists and engineers for our state and nation.”

MSU’s approach will transform introductory STEM courses to emphasize core scientific and mathematical ideas and practices that are common across different disciplines. This emphasis will improve student learning, raise student engagement and increase the number of students graduating with STEM degrees. These efforts also will change the institutional culture of MSU to focus even more on STEM student learning and success.

Specific projects will include reform and revision of chemistry and physics laboratory courses, the creation of digital evolution education software modules in biology and the development of a new modeling-based calculus curriculum.

“On behalf of the MSU STEM faculty involved in this project, I am grateful to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for its generous funding of our efforts,” Chivukula said. “We can’t wait to get started.”

MSU’s honor was part of the 2014 HHMI Research Universities Competition, which resulted in 37 winners and a total of $60 million in awards. These grants have focused on transforming science education in the United States by encouraging science teaching that is hands-on, research-oriented and interdisciplinary.

“Our nation’s research universities are absolutely critical to sustaining our scientific excellence,” said HHMI President Robert Tjian. “Simply put, we are challenging these universities to focus their attention on improving science education so that a greater number of talented students remain in science.”