Personal and Public Health
Health is a major civic and trans-disciplinary topic that covers many community-based threats and challenges, as well as global epidemics and environmental conditions. Specific areas addressed by SENCER model courses include: HIV/AIDS, obesity, asthma, nutrition, hunger, food security, and emerging diseases.
Our special inheritance as Americans obligates us to promote civic ideals and improve democratic practice. Many unsolved civic challenges offer excellent opportunities for learning mathematics, statistics, and technology while encouraging students to be conscientious, engaged citizens. Civic challenges that demand mathematical and technical knowledge include: voting/election technology/accuracy, access/distribution to/of services, taxation, the Decennial Census, and the “Key National Indicators Initiative.”
Matters affecting the environment are increasingly important for those making public and civic policy. Knowledge developed in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the so-called STEM disciplines) is essential to democratic deliberations regarding the environment, just as issues affecting the environment hold special promise as vehicles for improving learning in the STEM disciplines. Areas addressed in SENCER courses include biodiversity, land use policy and practice, toxic waste disposal, food security, transportation, and water and air quality.
Globalization has had a major impact on the development of science and technology, and the political and legal context in which they occur. The creation of a global scientific establishment poses both challenges and opportunities for science learning in the United States. NCSCE regards globalization as an occasion for establishing international collaborations that stimulate the engagement of U.S. students, campuses, communities, and citizens with issues and problems that are not confined within national borders. Areas of current interest include: connecting, or linking, scholars, students, and citizens in different countries regarding shared research interests in areas of pressing public need; integrating the experiences, work, and teaching of educators in the U.S. and other countries; strengthening science education through a focus on trans-national issues and problems; and expanding current programs involving higher education institutions in Armenia, Canada, Georgia, Honduras, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda.
NCSCE’s SENCER program has, at its core, a theory about how learning in science and mathematics can be enhanced, especially for those who have not succeeded at learning through traditional instructional practices. At the heart of this is a focus on the application of “the science of learning to the learning of science.” SENCER programs help faculty stay informed of the latest developments in learning research, including the application of cognitive research to the improvement of educational practice; developing and disseminating promising pedagogies for classroom applications; exploring strategies to increase student interest in becoming science and mathematics instructors in primary and secondary education; promoting undergraduate research collaboratives focused on contributing to public knowledge and finding solutions to real problems; organizing CURE-Chem, a consortium of institutions working together to conduct research focused on the presence of pharmaceuticals in the water supply; and aligning post-secondary education studies to educational policy and practices in the schools (especially Sci-Tech High Schools).
Does the approach of connecting learning in the sciences to critical issues facing our society improve learning? Does it stimulate informed, conscientious, and effective civic engagement? What makes it work or fail? What works? Why? These are the kinds of questions scholars, as well as those responsible for funding educational initiatives, need to have answered. Compiling evidence of educational effectiveness requires developing and implementing specific and sensitive assessment tools. Moreover, assessment is essential in understanding how to reduce the high “casualty rates” among those engaged in the serious study of science and mathematics. SENCER leaders and participants are engaged in ensuring the efficient and effective expenditure of educational dollars; supporting workforce preparation (focused on the knowledge/skills needed for 21st century challenges); adapting learning to an increasingly global workplace; investigating and documenting improvements in teaching and learning; developing increasingly sophisticated assessment techniques to measure learning gains and “knowledge transfer” in a variety of course settings; and supporting the development of a multi-campus Consortium for the Assessment of Student Achievement dedicated to using assessment to improve learning.
Our community has expressed a growing interest in the intersection of STEM and the humanities. Follow @STEMhumanities on Twitter for more on this Area of Focus.