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ASU boosts middle school science instruction

March 25, 2008

Students in Arizona’s middle schools will benefit from improved science instruction through a Board of Regents grant awarded to Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership (CTEL). CTEL professors and staff are collaborating with ASU colleagues to develop online courses to broaden the knowledge base of middle school science teachers.

Three online courses are now being readied to be taught in a pilot program this fall. A small group of middle school teachers will take each of the pilot classes, focusing on life science, physical science, and earth/space science. The Glendale and Isaac Elementary School Districts are working with CTEL as partners in piloting the new classes.

“Many middle school science teachers have prepared themselves by focusing on one area, such as biology,” says Ray Buss, associate professor in CTEL. “Taking classes in the other content areas will expand their knowledge and confidence as they teach important science concepts in their classrooms.”

Once the pilot program is complete, teachers around Arizona will be able to start taking any or all of the three online classes in the Spring 2009 semester. Undergraduate students planning to pursue teaching careers are eligible to take the classes as well.

Buss and fellow CTEL faculty member Ron Zambo collaborated on the proposal that resulted in the $122,499 Improving Teacher Quality grant from the Arizona Board of Regents.

Other ASU faculty participants in the project include Steven Semken from the School of Earth and Space Exploration, Gina Hupton from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences, and Robert J. Culbertson from the Department of Physics. All three have experience in curriculum design and delivery of instruction to K-12 teachers. Faculty and staff who possess expertise in design and delivery of online courses also are involved.

“This is exactly the type of collaborative effort Arizonans should expect from their public universities,” says Mari Koerner, dean of CTEL. “For the state to be competitive in the global marketplace, it’s critically important that our children graduate from high school with a solid understanding of how to use scientific knowledge to make good decisions not only in their everyday lives but to prepare for careers for which they need these skills. We are bringing together faculty experts in several fields to make a positive impact on learning in Arizona’s K-12 classrooms.”

Under federal guidelines and new Arizona teacher certification requirements, teachers wishing to become highly qualified to teach science in middle school grades must pass the Middle Grades General Science exam as part of the Arizona Educator Proficiency Assessments (AEPA).

The middle school science test includes questions focusing on life science, physical science, earth and space science, and the nature of science.

“We have had conversations with several school districts in the Valley about teachers who need assistance in preparing to pass the AEPA middle school science test,” Buss says. “While the numbers aren’t large in any one district, overall there is a real but widely dispersed need for instruction in science content.

“Making these courses available online will benefit teachers not only in the Phoenix area but across Arizona, including rural areas where teachers might otherwise not have access to this curriculum.”

Working teachers will have the option of using one or more of the online science courses as part of a Master of Education degree program in Elementary Education or Secondary Education offered through CTEL. The classes also will be available to undergraduate Elementary Education majors who are interested in becoming middle school science teachers.

For more information, contact Ray Buss at (602) 543-6343 or

Located on ASU’s West campus, the College of Teacher Education and Leadership collaborates with educational and civic communities to prepare and inspire innovative educators to be leaders who apply evidence-based knowledge that positively influences students, families, and the community. More information is available at