Spring 2010 STEM Tuesday Seminars

STEM seminars are held at 4PM on the first and third Tuesdays of each month during the academic year in Hasbrouck 138. Everyone is welcome; no reservations are needed, and there is no charge. Parking is available in the Campus Center Garage.

February 2


Florence R. Sullivan         
School of Education
University of Massachusetts, Amherst


“Collaborative Dialogic Inquiry: Tracing the Development of a Creative Solution in a Small Group Problem-solving Session”


Collaborative creativity is a phenomenon of increasing interest for learning sciences researchers. In this presentation, I offer the results of a study that examines the development of a creative solution in a small group interaction.  In this paper, I present a micro-genetic analysis of the trajectory of the development of a creative idea arrived at by students working collaboratively to solve a robotics problem in a sixth grade science classroom.  Results of the analysis indicate the significance of the development of three key conceptual understandings 

and four dialogic classroom conditions that enabled the development of the creative idea in this group. I will discuss the implications of this research for classroom practice as well as directions for future collaborative creativity research.

March 2         
K.C. Nat Turner
School of Education
University of Massachusetts 


 “Multimodal media production: Using emergent technologies to improve literacy instruction”


This talk outlines the development of multiliteracies through the production of multimodal media with urban youth.  Drawing from a literacy intervention with urban adolescents in the San Francisco Bay Area it argues that multimodal media production (MMP) can help young 

people engage in important literacy practices including information and communication technology (ICT) literacies.  Instead of teaching reading and writing as universally applicable neutral skills, teachers taught students to use MMP as a relevant sociocultural practice to 

address issues of social justice. An intertextual transcription method drawing on theories of multimodality (Hull & Nelson, 2005; Kress, 2003) and communication (Finnegan, 2002) that teachers and researchers can use to understand and evaluate students multimodal meaning making will also be shared.



April 6 


Jeff Blanchard                                 

Department of Microbiology

University of Massachusetts

"Using Genomic Technology to Develop Renewable Alternatives to Gasoline"

The forests surrounding the Quabbin reservoir are home to Clostridium phytofermentans. In the last three years C. phytofermentans has become a "Local Hero" and is known as the Q Microbe because it was discovered near the Quabbin reservoir by Susan Leschine's research group and because of the publicity surrounding the biofuels start up company Qteros, which is founded upon the concept of using a microbe to produce ethanol directly from plant fibers. The Q Microbe is a very tractable system for engaging high school students in the microbiology of forest soils and biotechnology. I will discuss the analysis of the C. phytofermentans genome and microarray experiments that reveal the metabolic pathways involved in the conversion of plant material into ethanol and other useful products.  


April 13 

Allan Collins

School of Education and Social Policy

Northwestern University


“Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology”


All around us people are learning with the aid of new technologies: children are playing complex video games, workers are taking online courses to get an advanced degree, students are taking courses at commercial learning centers to prepare for tests, adults are consulting Wikipedia, etc. New technologies create learning opportunities that challenge traditional schools and colleges. These new learning niches enable people of all ages to pursue learning on their own terms. People around the world are taking their education out of school into homes, libraries, Internet cafes, and workplaces, where they can decide what they want to learn, when they want to learn, and how they want to learn.


The developments described above are changing how people think about education. This rethinking will take many years to fully penetrate our understanding of the world and the society around us. To be successful, leaders will need to grasp these changes in a deep way and bring the government’s resources to bear on the problems raised by the changes that are happening. They will have to build their vision of a new education system around these new understandings. The rethinking that is necessary applies to many aspects of education and society. We are beginning to rethink the nature of learning, motivation, and what is important to learn. Further the nature of careers are changing and how people transition back and forth between learning and working. These changes demand a new kind of educational leadership and changing roles for government. New leaders will need to understand the affordances of the new technologies, and have a vision for education that will bring the new resources to everyone.





April 20


Julie Brigham-Grette                    

Department of Geosciences

University of Massachusetts


“Arctic Immersion for U.S. Undergraduates on Svalbard”


Contemporary studies of tidewater glacier margins in Kongsfjord, Svalbard (79oN), provide an unparalleled opportunity for introducing motivated third year undergraduate students to the challenges and rewards of polar field research.  Rates of rapid change in this high-latitude Arctic environment emphasizes the complexity of the Earth System at the interface of the ocean, atmosphere and cryosphere.   Given background information in glaciology, glacial geology, hydrology, climatology and fjord oceanography not routinely offered in undergraduate curricula, students develop the science questions to be addressed and establish a field plan for instrumentation and sampling.   Working together in small boats in one of the most challenging natural environments, the students expand their leadership skills, learn the value of teamwork and collaborative data sharing while maintaining a strong sense of ownership over their individual science projects.  The rigors of studying an actively calving tidewater glacier also builds on their outdoor skills, especially when it is necessary to improvise and become resourceful due to instrumentation failures or weather-related delays.  Self-confidence and problem solving skills emerge from both field and laboratory research operations when students draw upon and expand their base of practical knowledge via trial and error.   The Kings Bay logistical facilities in Ny Ålesund offer an international experience with opportunities for dialog with scientists of a wide variety of disciplines working at research stations representing more than 12 different European and Asian countries.   All students in the program complete yearlong senior theses or independent studies and make presentations at a professional meeting to complete the scientific process.



May 4             
Postponed Until November 2010


Jonathan King                   

Molecular Biology

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


“The Undermining of Authentic Science Education through Excessive Reliance on Standardized Tests”


The extraordinary US scientific and engineering productivity in the post-sputnik period had its roots in a broad-based system of public education that functioned without standardized high stakes tests. In the last decade US public education has been deeply perturbed by the introduction of mandatory standardized tests, most notably through the NCLB.  The introduction of high stakes tests, for example the MCAS tests in Massachusetts, was brought about by a small but influential group allied with conservative think tanks advocating privatization of public education. High stakes tests were implemented over the opposition of the major recommendations of national scientific bodies1.   The impact of high stakes tests are to narrow curriculum, drive creative teachers out of education, and replace inquiry-based learning with 19th century rote drill and kill rote learning classes2. This is particularly damaging in STEM education where students need to be able to formulate questions, design experiments, interpret unexpected results, and make new and novel connections and observations. The very considerable expenditures to the test industry should be redirected to investment in laboratory facilities and supplies, teacher training and professional development, computer access, and resources for projects and field trips. Standardized tests can be used as one component of student and school assessment, but always combined with more authentic measures including classroom tests, lab reports, science projects, and public presentations.


1 Science for all Americans, Project 2061, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington DC 1989; High Stakes: Testing for Tracking, Promotion and Graduation, (Edited by Jay P. Heubert and Robert M. Hauser), National Research Council (1999).


2 David C. Berliner and Sharon L. Nichols, Collateral Damage (Harvard University Press, 2007); Alfie Kohn The Case Against Standardized Testing: Raising the Scores, Ruining the Schools (Portsmouth, N.H.: Heinemann, 2000).



May 4


Amanda Walker Johnson                    

Department of Anthropology

University of Massachusetts


"The Impact of Standardized Testing on the Experiences of Learning and Community"


This talk will address the issue of "high-stakes" standardized testing as a phenomenon across the country. Focusing on math and science education, the talk will examine how high-stakes testing has impacted students' experiences as learners, teachers' experiences with pedagogy, and schools' experiences as communities.