Science and Engineering Seminars at UMass Amherst, Fall 2002


Sponsored by the STEM Education Institute and the Raytheon Corporation

September 21. Using Formative Assessment to Engage Students in the Learning of Physics.

Bill Gerace, Physics.  Methodologies developed during our “Assessing-to-Learn” project will be modeled and discussed.  Drawing from the content area of basic introductory Physics, we will provide examples of active learning techniques that promote genuine engagement by the student.  A classroom communication system will be used to demonstrate how assessment items can stimulate reflective and self-evaluative behaviors for both students and instructors.


October 5.  MyDNA: Bringing the Human Genome Home to Everyone! Molly Fitzgerald-Hayes and Frieda Reichsman, Biochemistry. The DNA molecules carry our genes and are packaged by proteins to make our 46 chromosomes. Workshop participants will have the opportunity to isolate their own DNA from their cheek cells using an absolutely safe, painless method. They will also play a DNA board game that illustrates how genes are expressed as proteins and explains the genetic code by playing the game. We will also use a paper cut-and-paste classroom activity to show how cloned genes can make a common bacterium into a bio-terrorism weapon.  We will show some interactive computer movies featuring 3D DNA and protein molecules that help people to better visualize what happens in our cells.  Participants will discover how to access resources that will help everyone learn about DNA.


October 19. Problem-based learning in an introductory biology course. Merle Bruno and Chris Jarvis, Biology, Hampshire College. Small group, problem-based teaching has been used for a number of years by teachers in K-12.  Over the past seven years we have taught an introductory human biology course in which first year undergraduates work in small, formal cooperative groups to solve medical cases.  Seminar attendees will work with a sample medical case to get a sense of how this works in a class.  Some of the strategies, materials, and assessments used in this class will be reviewed.


November 2. Darwin in the Classroom: Strategies for Teaching Evolution. Bruce Byers, Biology, Helping students understand evolutionary biology is an important part of a biology teacher’s job, but teaching the concepts of evolution can be challenging. Many students come with erroneous preconceptions which they must unlearn. In addition, some have religious beliefs that encourage them to resist discussion of evolution, and the disinformation campaign mounted by creationists also affects a large group of students.  Further, the concepts of evolutionary theory can be abstract, and it is difficult to make them concrete enough for students to grasp.  Adding to the difficulty, evolutionary biology appropriates words (e.g., adaptation, fitness) that have one meaning in everyday life and a different one in evolutionary biology.  We will explore and develop ideas, strategies, and methods for overcoming these challenges and promoting understanding of the principles of evolution. Morrill 301


November 16. Drinking Water Supply and Treatment, Michael Switzenbaum, Civil and Environmental Engineering. This workshop focuses on the provision of safe drinking water to the public (i.e. water supply engineering).  Issues associated with the both the quantity and quality of water supply will be addressed.  Topics include: sources of water, quality concerns, uses of water, estimation of quantities needed, and treatment of drinking water.  Exercises and lab demonstrations will be conducted including how water is cleaned, how substances are measured in water, and how water use is estimated.  Gunness Lounge, Marcus Engineering Building


December 14. Closing session for those registered for graduate credit.  Lederle Grad Research Towers 1033


Questions: Mort Sternheim, 413-545-1908,

Register: Eugenie Harvey, 413-545-1290,