nCASE proposes training the nation's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) teacher workforce in an augmented Inquiry and Design (I&D) method of instruction. I&D, which is attracting interest among STEM educators nationwide, emulates the scientific method in the classroom. A student-centered approach, it emphasizes inquiry (science and mathematics) and design (engineering) elements. The teacher is cast in the role of a facilitator and co-researcher in a communal process of learning through inquiry and experimentation. The process shows considerable promise as a method for captivating and engaging students' inquiring minds.
Although nCASE focuses on I&D, it advocates a balanced instructional program that is adaptive and inclusive in tone and substance. Subject matter needs to be covered in order to retain the integrity of the curriculum and to prepare students for advancement to higher grade levels. I&D is an instructional method; it does not dictate subject matter or curriculum. It can be deployed selectively in the manner that local teachers and school systems deem most beneficial to their students. The overall objective is to add spice to STEM studies so that students get “turned on” to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. nCASE's summer/on-site training and follow-up programs incorporate the following:
- Department of Defense scientists and engineers (S&Es) visit the classroom setting, giving teachers direct access to experts in the practice of the scientific method;
- Instruction is project-based, presenting students with real-life problems for them to examine and seek answers to;
- The training introduces teachers to the most current and best materials available for supporting I&D instruction;
- The training is integrative, showing teachers how to use and incorporate various technologies and electronic media, including educational gaming, into the instructional mix so that teachers can engage students using tools they understand and value; and
- The program culminates in classroom demonstration projects in which teachers, S&Es, and students deploy the scientific method to solve real-life problems, engineering experimental designs and products and report findings as actual scientists might.
nCASE's on-site I&D orientation and training is delivered via three, four, and five-day in-service workshops at DoD selected sites in states across the nation. It also provides intensive, week-long training sessions each summer. The target audience is STEM teachers and participating S&Es. The programs have a common framework focused on the use of the I&D teaching methodology to improve student learning in the STEM subject areas.
nCASE's on-site training programs are typically delivered over a three-day period, although it can be adapted to the needs and wishes of local school systems. Depending on the participants' areas of expertise, it can also be adjusted to emphasize science, technology, engineering, or mathematics, although technology integration has to be contained within the three-day time constraint. Irrespective of the particular emphasis, all nCASE's workshops examine the common principles practitioners of I&D need to master.
Throughout, the approach is integrative, stressing the importance and role of the four general STEM areas in solving real-life problems. The driving force behind this integrative approach is the dual character of the instructional model. Emulating the scientific method, I&D emphasizes both inquiry and design. Inquiry entails investigation in one or more areas of science, and design relies on engineering principles and practices to devise solutions to real-life problems. In turn, science and engineering depend on mathematics and technology. Viewed from this perspective, the various STEM areas are integral to a coherent problem-solving process. Witnessing how the several areas interrelate, students are better able to develop an appreciation of the role and contribution of each.
DoD's critical mission area of science and engineering education provides numerous and varied opportunities to influence STEM education at the K-16 grade levels. nCASE's focus is primarily 5th-12th grade. All nCASE's STEM training programs and associated STEM learning modules are aligned to the standards of the states which participating teachers represent. In this way, nCASE's training supports and facilitates state expectations in the STEM areas of instruction.
Instructional Materials: nCASE began its training program using the Materials World Modules (MWM) produced at Northwestern University as the main instructional tool for showing teachers how to use I&D to teach scientific subject matter from a student-centered point of view. Although nCASE continues to use MWM as a leading instructional platform, it has from its inception been dedicated to using the best instructional materials as they were developed. It examines and field tests new products as a third party objective reviewer before adopting materials for its purposes.
Currently, nCASE is working with instructional materials from a number of sources. Some have been incorporated into its training program; others are in the examination and testing phase. All the programs share the common feature that they embed and support the use of I&D in the classroom with support from the DoD scientists and engineers (S&Es).
In the area of mathematics, nCASE has partnered with DimensionU (New York) to use its DimensionM gaming software to support instruction in pre-algebra and algebra 1. Its developers incorporated instructional modules that can be used by the classroom teacher during in-school or out-of-school instruction. Students have the option of practicing their algebra skills independently in a single-player mission or collaboratively in a multi-player mission. DimensionU added an arithmetic game for grades 3-5 and expanded offerings beyond mathematics to include the topics of literacy, science and history.
The purpose of nCASE's ongoing search for high quality materials with demonstrated success or promise is to keep its trainees current regarding the best products available in the marketplace. To this end, it forges working relationships with creators, both public and private.
Role of Technology: Another effective and indispensable tool of STEM teaching is technology, which nCASE uses extensively in its training programs. nCASE's lead instructors demonstrate how to integrate digital technology into the STEM disciplines. iPads, iPods, digital cameras, cell phones, smart boards, and Vernier probes are examples of a few of the tools woven into the training program. In general, today's youth are comfortable with various aspects of technology. These “millennials” are technically literate like no generation before them. STEM teachers who conduct their classes in the same way as they had in the past are foregoing powerful tools for keeping their students excited about learning.
Support System: nCASE's support system includes a variety of services designed to insure that the teacher trainees are effectively using the new products and tools they have learned and, in consequence, acquiring the literacy they need to keep pace.
nCASE staff are proactive, conducting routine follow-up with trained teachers to see if they are applying I&D in their classrooms and to offer assistance. The service also allows teachers to receive additional professional development opportunities; to access information on successful demonstration projects elsewhere and on cutting-edge and best practices; to collaborate with partners from around the nation and the world on research opportunities that can enrich I&D learning; to stay current with innovations and trends; and to query nCASE's help desk staff to get needed information on a just-in-time basis.
CLICK HERE for DimensionU Help Sheet
CLICK HERE to enter the Action Research & Associates, Inc. website to read the evaluation of the Materials World Modules: 2006 Summer Institute
CLICK HERE to read the evaluation of the STEM Learning Module Program: Sports Materials Partnership Intervention performed by Action Research & Associates, Inc. (Spring 2008)
CLICK HERE to read the Process Evaluation of the STEM Learning Modules: March 2008 Training Workshop performed by Action Research & Associates, Inc.
CLICK HERE to read 2009 Synopsis of Findings: DoD Career Scientists' and Engineers' Impact on Middle School Students and Science Teachers
CLICK HERE to see presentation for 2009 Summative Evaluation: NDEP's K-12 Inquiry & Design Curriculum with Partnerships (IDCP)
CLICK HERE to see a MWM External Formative Evaluation
CLICK HERE to see Tabula digita UCF Research