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Dr. Tammy Lee

Dr. Tammy Lee

Dr. Tammy Lee replies to questions about Science and Science Education.

1. Do you have a favorite field of study within science?

My favorite field of study is learning about our natural world.   Understanding our natural world involves all fields of science (physics, biology, chemistry, and earth science). We, human beings, have divided the sciences into separate fields for the purpose of study, but to understand the natural world, all the sciences collectively shape our understanding.

 

2. What are your favorite places on earth?  What makes them special?

I have many favorite places on earth. It is hard to choose. I love nature and being outside. My family and I go camping all through the year. We love visiting different state and national parks. I think it is very important to save natural areas to preserve them for exploration in future generations and to appreciate them. One of my favorite places to visit is our North Carolina Mountains. Whenever I am in the mountains, I like to hike to a flowing stream, find a huge rock, sit and enjoy the sounds of rushing water, watching whirligig beetles, and dragonfly larva swim by me. AWWWW perfect.

 

3. What are your favorite places to contemplate beyond earth?  

I like earth. I have not thought about going beyond it. I think space travel is extremely interesting and we have benefited in so many ways from traveling to space. But I do not have an interest in adventuring beyond our planet.

Do you believe that one day you will travel beyond earth’s atmosphere? No.

 

4. Do you regard ecosystems as fragile?  Why or why not?

Ecosystems are ever changing. Ecosystems are constantly changing due to natural and manmade influences. As one example, this past summer, I took a group of beginning teachers (ECU alumni) to the NC Mountains to study the ecological area of Mount Mitchell. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell is the highest point east of the Mississippi. At the top of Mt Mitchell is the natural habitat of the evergreen Frasier fir. What most people recognize as a “Christmas Tree.” The mature Frasier Firs have been almost completely killed off by a non-native insect called the Balsam woolly adelgid. Since these insects are invasive the Frasier Fir have not evolved a defense to them. Also, the high elevations of Mt Mitchell have exposed the Frasier Fir and other plant life to air pollution in the form of acid rain, snow, and fog as a result of coal industries in the area. The attack of the invasive species of the adelgid and pollution from coal plants are just two examples of how natural and manmade influences are changing the high elevation ecosystem of the NC Mountains. The pollution problem is improving due to regulations that have been put in place. Trying to find a solution to the invasive species problem is complex and may not be solved. But over time the changes will result in a transformed ecosystem with hopefully, something just as beautiful as the Frasier Fir.

 

5. With respect to science education, what was the purpose of your doctoral dissertation?  

My dissertation focused on two areas. The first part of my dissertation focused on elementary in-service and pre-service teachers’ knowledge of systems thinking within the context of the water cycle. Systems thinking is a way of thinking about systems such as the water cycle or ecosystems which focuses on the interactions and relationships that occur within and among the systems. The water cycle, ecosystems, and moon phases are examples of systems that are a part of national and state elementary science curricula. The second part of my dissertation focused on selecting and using visual models to teach with a systems thinking approach. My research questions were centered around what visual models would elementary in-service and pre-service teachers select when teaching about the water cycle and then how they would use them in a lesson.

What methods did you use in seeking to attain the goals of the work?  

I used a mixed methods approach that involved content knowledge tests, surveys, a card-sort task, and interviews.

What conclusions did you draw and what are their implications for science education?

I found that teachers had difficulty applying systems thinking skills within the context of a specific system (water cycle). The implications could result in a lack of complexity in instruction when teaching about natural and manmade systems in science curricula. To help with this issue, we have implemented a systems thinking approach in our content courses of the Elementary Science Concentration (ESC). My research start up grant is also focused on working with ESC alumni on creating ecological systems thinking units.

I also found that when teachers select diagrams to teach the water cycle, their discussion of how to use diagrams in instruction tends to be more teacher centered, but when photographs are selected, teachers discuss using a more student-centered approach. The implications of these findings are important because elementary school teachers act in the role of instructional designers. Again, to help address this concern in our teacher preparation courses, we have implemented assignments in which students select and use visual and physical models to promote science discourse. Also, within my research start up grant, we are working on creating virtual field trips based on field experiences in the NC Mountains.

 

6. What do you hope graduates of science education programs at ECU will accomplish?

When we started the Elementary Science Concentration (ESC) we hoped to create an army of elementary school teachers that had a passion and love for science and science teaching. This passion would motivate them to become leaders in science for their schools and in the future for their districts, state, and the nation. I have been lucky enough to continue working with many of the graduates from the ESC over the past few years. During this time I have seen them grow as science teachers and become leaders in science at each level.

As a science educator, what knowledge, skills, and attitudes are you helping students acquire, which will help them accomplish those goals?

Teaching elementary science involves acquisition of specialized knowledge and skills, which our students gain in a supportive environment that allows students to develop a curiosity about the world around them. I believe content knowledge is important for teaching elementary science, but more importantly, you must have an interest and passion for the subject.

 

7. What STEM and science education projects are you pursuing today?

Currently, I am working on several projects. We have been investigating how to increase pre-service teachers’ science discourse when using modeling in science instruction. We are also working on creating virtual reality field trips based on our field experience in the NC Mountains and this upcoming summer we are offering our first study abroad graduate course in Costa Rica. This course is focused on using a systems thinking approach to teaching about climate change.

 

In the mountains, among friends, students, and Frasier Firs.

Science Ed Expedition to NC Mountains

 

Science Ed Expedition to North Carolina Mountains

Remembering Floyd Mattheis

Dr. Floyd Mattheis

MSITE mourns the unexpected passing of Dr. Floyd Elliott Mattheis, 85, on Friday, September 1, 2017.

After graduating from Ellendale High School in 1949 and State Normal and Industrial College in 1952, Floyd was drafted into the United States Army.  He served full-time till June 1954 and then served as a reservist until August 1960.  After full-time military service, Floyd dedicated his professional life to teaching and learning. In 1954 he started teaching science and mathematics at Granite Falls High School in Granite Falls, Minnesota.  In the summers of 1956 through 1958 Floyd completed graduate work at the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks.  Building on that work, Floyd earned the Master of Education degree in May 1959 and the Doctor of Education degree in 1962, both from  the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Floyd remained a doctoral student while working in the Science Department as an Assistant Professor here at East Carolina College, which is now East Carolina University.  In 1963 Floyd earned promotion to Associate Professor of Science Education and in 1966 was promoted to Professor of Science Education.  Floyd also became Chairman of the Department of Science Education for 19 years (1966-1985).

Floyd was very successful in acquiring grant funds, including personnel preparation funds to improve the quality of science teaching in North Carolina.  While teaching and conducting research at ECU, Floyd helped organize the North Carolina Science Teachers Association and also served on national associations of science teachers, including service on the Board of Directors of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) and service as President of the Association for the Education of Teachers of Science (AETS).

Floyd’s impact extended beyond this country’s borders.  With grant funds from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Floyd took 10 ECU students to Hyderabad, India, to participate in a Solar Eclipse Expedition and, with additional funds from the NSF, worked subsequently with teachers and science educators in India. Later, invited by the Sony Foundation for Science Education, Floyd visited schools in Japan.  Further, also with funds from the NSF, Floyd conducted cooperative research with Japanese science educators.  

After several presentations at state, regional, national, and international conferences, including cities in England, India, Japan, China, Singapore, and the Philippines, plus numerous additional scholarly contributions, and well before his retirement from ECU, Floyd received the Distinguished Service to Science Education Award from NSTA (1991) and  NSTA’s highest award – The Robert Carleton Award (1996).

After 51 years of work in science education at ECU, including service from 1985-2011 as Director of the Summer Ventures program in our department, Floyd retired in December of 2011 at 80 years of age.  We in MSITE remember his jovial spirit and incredible contributions.

One of Floyd’s hobbies was chasing total solar eclipses – he saw 12 of them, including the one August 21, 2017.

Additional details about Floyd’s life are available at this web page, which provided source material for this tribute.

Introducing Dr. Len Annetta

Len Annetta

We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Len Annetta, Taft Distinguished Professor of Science Education, to MSITE and to introduce him to you.  Dr. Annetta has worked as a High School Science Teacher in Maryland, an Assistant and Associate Professor at NC State, and an Associate Professor and Professor at George Mason University (Fairfax, VA).  He has held multiple leadership positions over decades, providing service as an academic coordinator, Director, Chair of Special Interest groups in educational technology, as well as serving as the Executive Director of the Institute for Modeling, Simulations, and Serious Games Research at George Mason University.  Dr. Annetta continues his leadership as the Taft Distinguished Professor of Science Education here at ECU.  We look forward to collaborating with Dr. Annetta.  To learn more about him, we asked Dr. Annetta a few questions about North Carolina, Science Education, Educational Technology, and a question about his hobbies.  We invite you to read his replies.

  1. What interests you about ECU and North Carolina?

I always had an admiration for ECU’s commitment to online teaching and learning and instructional technology inclusion across the curriculum. During my seven years at NC State, I grew a competitive love for helping educators with the challenges NC public schools face, particularly the schools in the east side of the state. When the opportunity arose for me to possibly come back to NC and be on the ECU faculty, I had to relentlessly pursue it and am so excited to be back here and working with such great colleagues.

  1. What knowledge, skills, and attitudes should a science educator possess?

This question is one that has been debated for years and I suspect will be debated for many more, but I will gladly give you my opinion. As with any other discipline based educator, a science teacher should have the depth and breadth of content knowledge to challenge student thinking, the disposition to understand the role of a professional educator, and to have the will to pursue contemporary and cutting edge knowledge and techniques for the ever changing educational landscape.

  1. What are some of your favorite serious/educational games for science students?

My work evolved from me creating games for students to the students becoming the designer and developer of Serious Education Games. Although there are many good science based games out (e.g., Immune Attack, Mission Biotech, etc) the work my research team and I have accomplished the last 15 years or so has created a solid foundational literature base on greater knowledge, cognitive, and attitudinal gains from students being the designer/developer than just a player.

  1. What instructional methods do you recommend a high school science teacher use in order to pique student interest in science?

The short answer is the one they didn’t use the day before. Again, this has been argued in our field for some time, but engaging the learner is a crucial step in the learning process. Understanding what students do outside of school and bridging those interests to one’s teaching repertoire is always an effective means to engagement. This is how my interest in games came about.  I was not a gamer per se, but while I taught high school in the 90’s, my students would choose not to do the assigned homework. When pressed on what they were doing instead, playing games was a common theme. Integrating games in my teaching helped not only to engage my students, but helped students, who were not succeeding in traditional instruction, learn the science content.

  1. What excites you about instruction in 3D virtual environments?

3D environments play a role in cognitive development. Visuospatial ability is important to successful learning of difficult concepts. Learning bond angles in chemistry, architecture in engineering and technology education, and geometry in math (to names a few) are gateway areas for many to continue or halt their pursuit of STEM degrees and subsequent occupations. With respect to online learning, our work using synchronous, 3D environments as a platform for distance learning has suggested a stronger online presence than in asynchronous courses and communication avenue for students. This is an area that I hope to bring to ECU’s online learning arena.

  1. How do you connect practices in science and engineering education?

Creativity is one area that I have argued has been diminishing in students-mostly because of standardized tests-but the releasing of the Next Generation Science Standards in 2015 has given science educators a model for integrating science and engineering. We just published and edited a book on this subject with researchers worldwide sharing how they’ve created this natural bridge. For us, our Serious Education Game (SEG) design model allows for students to use their imagination and creativity to learn science content at a much deeper level than what they get in a traditional class, while also learning the test-retest engineering model. Students often don’t know that they are learning science or engineering; they just think they are playing in a sandbox through SEG creation.

  1. What hobbies or activities do you enjoy away from work?

I am a father to two teenagers who are involved in sports so most of my “off” time is spent watching or coaching them. I golf and workout when I can as well but the blessing and curse of technology is that I, like most of my colleagues, are on call 24/7.

 

Dr. Ron Preston: Scholar, Collaborator, Helper

Dr. Ron Preston

We are delighted to highlight Dr. Preston.  His many scholarly accomplishments, which include numerous publications, presentations, and external funding awards would provide sufficient reason to honor him.  Yet there is more to Dr. Preston than one will find in his scholarly work.  Dr. Preston has an uncanny zeal to serve.  We could string together a lengthy series of banal platitudes (he’s indefatigable, precious, a treasure, and so on), but we prefer that you gain your own personal sense for the man.  We asked Dr. Preston some questions about North Carolina, Indiana, mathematics, mathematics education, higher education administration, service, and gardening.  We invite you to read his replies in order to gain a sense for his keen insights.

1. Is North Carolina or Indiana your favorite State in the USA or do you find the two States equally appealing?  Why?

This is a hard one for me. I have very good memories and feelings about both states. It may seem like the easy way out to say NC since the readers are much more likely to reside in NC than IN. However, I will go with NC because this is where I have church, colleagues, friends, and a level of comfort that I would not have if I was suddenly transplanted to Indiana.

2. Why do you enjoy gardening?

I enjoy seeing plants grow. I like seeing people grow more than plants, but sometimes the plants grow more quickly and in ways that are easier to measure than the growth of our students.

3. What intrigues you, personally, about mathematics?

The dual nature that I see in mathematics. I see this particularly in mathematical modeling – mathematics is an incredibly useful tool for understanding our world, for describing it, for solving problems that exist in it, and for making decisions about our future with it. But it is also an art – there is an art to solving problems, to choosing the particular mathematics to bring to bear on a situation, and for communicating the results of your work.

4. In your view, what mathematics knowledge and skills are required for literacy?

Mathematical literacy is very broad, but the first two areas I think about are numeracy (number sense) and stochastic reasoning (data and probability sense). For many people who have careers that are not mathematics intensive, much of the mathematics they encounter is from the number strand – computation with whole numbers; work with fractions, decimals, and percents. But more and more, our citizenry is asked to be consumers of data-infused information and, in many cases, actual users of data.

5. When teaching mathematics educators, what instructional methods do you find effective and inspiring?

I particularly enjoy methods that I did not experience in any great measure as a student. In fact, my first big lesson as a teacher was to understand that how I learned mathematics was not going to be effective for many of my students. I had to learn how to use more visual approaches. I also enjoy teaching through application, but understand that for every student who is motivated by a certain application, there will likely be at least two students who are not enamored with that application.

6. As President of the NC division of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, what insights have you gained into the state of mathematics education in North Carolina.

I have learned that there is a lot of mathematics talent among the membership of NCCTM, a lot of passion about mathematics teaching and learning, and a lot of willingness to share that talent and passion. Around the state, the mathematics education community has a lot of work to do, not just in educating our students (although we cannot forget that is our primary goal), but in sharpening our skills by working with each other, and by educating important constituent groups such as parents, community leaders, and school board members.

7. Among the administrative roles you have held, what does your current position of Director of Students in the Department of Mathematics, Science, Instructional Technology Education offer, which is not available in other roles?

Although sometimes I feel pulled in different directions as I work with recruitment, advising, curriculum, connecting with alumni, advocating for course offerings, etc., I am at the root of it all working for the benefit of students. One of my advisors and supporters in Flanagan is Joyce. Sometimes she will see me early in the morning and ask me why I am dressed up. I will tell her that I am meeting with some very important people and that I am hoping to make a good impression. I think she knows by now that when she asks who I am going to meet with that day that it is going to be students or maybe prospective students. “None of us would be needed here if we did not have students.” I know we do a lot of important work in generating new knowledge, serving as an economic engine for the region, etc., but without students . . . I am quick to add, however, that we need student-centered instructors, housekeepers, chairs, deans, and even upper administrators. Not all of these positions have as much contact with students as I have, but if we do not make student-centered efforts and decisions, we will be the poorer for it as an institution.

8. What drives you to serve others?

I like to help. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping others and seeing them succeed. Sometimes service to others means providing a helping hand. Sometimes it means being an advocate for a student or elaborating on the curriculum the student will take. At the heart of my motivation are some words in Matthew 25 of the Bible.

Introducing Dr. Dan Dickerson

Dan_Dickerson_closeup_193_313

1. What are some of your favorite things about North Carolina?

BBQ (only eastern NC), Cheerwine, Krispy Kreme, steamed winter oysters, cover dish on Sunday, the smell of freshly dug peanuts in the fall, hunting and fishing, the coast, the mountains, most places in between the coast and mountains, family and friends, and no matter where I’ve gone or for how long, it has always remained home

2. As a specialist in environmental and earth science, what do wish everyone knew about Earth?

How to engage in environmentally responsible behaviors, while supporting economic growth/sustainability, because that is going to be one of the biggest challenges the next few generations will face.

3. In your view, what are the top environmental challenges we face on Earth? How might we overcome those challenges?

Climate change effects, global availability of potable water, fate and transport of toxicants… I don’t think ignorance is part of the solution, so from that perspective I feel strongly that STEM education is a critical part of the answer, but not the whole answer. Knowing what’s good for you and doing it are two different things, which is why I’m drinking a cherry pepsi right now.

4. Drawing on your experience as a science educator, what should students in K-12 schools learn about science?

What science is, how science operates, and authentically integrated STEM content.

First, understanding the nature of science (i.e. what science is and how it operates) is critical because it means the difference between only seeing science as set of disparate facts that help you win Jeopardy in your living room and seeing science as a specific way of knowing. Understanding the tenets of science and what characteristics make it unique from other ways of knowing helps people understand and act on the strengths and limitations of science in informed ways in both their personal lives and at the ballot box. Secondly, authentically integrated STEM content is important because practitioners rarely, if ever, function within a single domain. Students sense this based in part on their own experiences outside of school and that’s why many often feel that science education in school is stale and disconnected from the real world… their world. Placing science content learning in the context of authentic questions or challenges generates student interest, motivation, and learning.

5. What fundamental technical skills do you recommend budding scientists acquire?

In general, the technical skills associated with a practical knowledge and application of mathematics and statistics and the ability to fix and/or make stuff

More specifically, the technical skills associated with (1) a practical knowledge and application of mathematics and statistics, such as use of computer-based statistical packages; and (2) the ability to fix and/or make stuff, which involves use of hand tools and fabrication equipment (e.g., 3D printers, CNC mill, MIG/TIG welding), CAD, electronics, and coding. These are the new skills that are needed as STEM domains and disciplines continue to become increasingly sophisticated mash-ups, including fields such as biomedical engineering, mechatronics, marine geochemistry and the like.

Communication skills are tantamount to these other technical skills. Many scientists have important insights to share with the public, but if they are unable to do so, all their hard work is effectively diminished. Scientists must now understand and use emergent forms of communication as well as thinking about old forms of communication in new ways as they disseminate their work.

 6. What knowledge, skills, and attitudes should a science educator possess?

Knowledge and skills . . . as many as possible, in as many STEM and non-STEM areas as possible. The more informed and well rounded the science educator, the better he or she can effectively communicate with others from diverse backgrounds. Attitudes . . . care, compassion, and empathy.

 7. Why do you value education so much?

I see it as a practical extension of hope. If you hope that things will be better, you should do something about it. To do something, you have to know what to do. In order to know what to do… education.