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Learning about Learning
UCSD Launches New Math and Science Education Program

By Sherry Seethaler | October 9, 2006

If you build it, they will come. With all the conviction of Ray Kinsella in the movie "Field of Dreams," a group of faculty and staff from UCSD’s Division of Physical Sciences and Education Studies did build it, and they did come—not to a baseball diamond in an Iowa corn field, but to a brand new math and science education program at UCSD.

Guershon Harel

Method invented by Ed, age seven, for solving division problems:

Problem: How much is 42 divided by 7?
Ed’s Answer: 40 divided by 10 is 4; 3 and 3 and 3 and 3 are 12; 12 plus 2 is 14; 14 divided by 2 is 7; 2 plus 4 is 6.
For an explanation of Ed’s solution, click here.

More than 50 students have expressed an interest in the program. The freshman seminars, which begin this week (Teaching Math: The Challenge and Teaching Science: The Challenge), will provide a brief but tantalizing introduction to how diverse learners solve math and science problems and how effective teaching is rooted in a deep understanding of how people learn.

To illustrate why effective teaching requires much more than a solid grasp of the subject matter, Guershon Harel, a professor in the mathematics department, presented examples of young students’ reasoning at a program recruitment meeting for undergraduates. The undergraduates were dazzled by the mathematical creativity of one 7-year old, who did not let the fact that he had not been taught division stop him from correctly solving division problems. He invented his own method.

“It is essential to respect students’ ideas by understanding these ideas well enough to build on them, rather than simply giving students a formula to memorize,” explained Harel.

“Another aspect of respect is appreciating the social and cultural context students are coming from,” added Luz Chung, a lecturer in education studies. “Therefore, in this program you will have the opportunity to work with diverse students in variety of different types of schools.” 

UCSD’s new minors in science education and mathematics education are part of the UC-wide California Teach program.  Governor Schwarzenegger and UC President Robert C. Dynes launched California Teach last year in an effort to dramatically increase the number of science and math high school and middle school teachers produced by the UC system. California is currently producing about half of the secondary math and science teachers it needs, according to figures from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the California Department of Education. 

Luz Chung

The goal of California Teach, which is based on University of Texas at Austin’s successful UTeach program, is to attract students to teaching early in their undergraduate studies. Students will still need to enroll in a teacher credentialing program after they complete their bachelor’s degree, but they will be eligible to become intern teachers who are paid to teach while they complete the requirements for the credential.

California Teach has different flavors at each UC campus. UCSD is the first campus to introduce new minors as a part of California Teach. UCSD’s new minors bring together faculty in the sciences, mathematics and education. The partnership bridges a gap characteristic of most teacher education programs, in which courses in psychology, learning and development are “tacked onto”students’ science or mathematics coursework.

These elements will be truly blended together in UCSD’s new minors, so that students think deeply about teaching and learning in the context of the science and mathematics subject matter. Therefore, the minors are not only ideal for students with an interest in teaching at the K-12, community college or undergraduate level, but also students who are simply curious about their own learning and who would like to become better learners. 

Barbara Sawrey (right)

“According to the National Science Foundation, across the country only half of incoming freshman planning to major in science, math or engineering actually go on to obtain degrees in those areas,” said Barbara Sawrey, vice chair for education in the department of chemistry and biochemistry.  “We hope that by helping students reflect deeply on their own learning, we will succeed in increasing the retention of science, math and engineering majors.”

And with the growing concern over America’s global competitiveness, that would certainly be a home run.

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To visit the Science and Math Education Program web-site, please click here.

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