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Baker honored for contributions to improving teacher quality

October 31, 2008

ASU Professor Dale Baker has been named a fellow of the American Association of Educational Research in recognition of her substantial research accomplishments and contributions to the field. She will be inducted in April 2009 at the AERA annual meeting in San Diego, Calif.

Baker teaches courses in the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education on research design, equity and assessment issues in science education, and courses that help teachers infuse engineering concepts into their curriculum.

She recently received a $100,000 Improving Teacher Quality grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help high school teachers build science classroom discourse communities. The funding expands ASU’s ongoing Learning Science Content through Communication in Science Inquiry Project, a five-year, $2.1 million effort to provide science and English teachers with professional development materials to increase teacher and student understanding of scientific concepts. The project aims to help students write scientifically with greater fluency and complexity, especially English language learners.

Associate Senior Vice Provost James Middleton of the Fulton College said Baker’s work at ASU embodies the three pillars of the New American University: excellence, access and impact.

“Dale is one of our most decorated faculty members in education, in particular in science education,” Middleton said. “She was recognized as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2006 for her groundbreaking and transformative work in helping our understanding of gender equity in science education. She has consulted around the world on how to improve the status of women in science education. She is an icon of access and impact and is at the very pinnacle of excellence in her field.”

Through collaborations with the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering and the ASU Polytechnic campus, Baker also has contributed to new thinking about undergraduate education in engineering and technology.

Professor Stephen Krause, of ASU’s School of Materials, extols Baker for bringing the fresh perspective of a science education researcher to the field of engineering education. He said her collaborations are helping facilitate change for a better future in education.

“Her approach balances the affective side of student learning with objective side of effective, authentic assessment of student learning. As a national expert in the area of diversity in education, she has been and still is a strong proponent of diversity in engineering education, an area which has only 20 percent female and 10 percent minority enrollment,” Krause said. “As such, she has been promoting creativity, hands-on abilities, and societal relevance of engineering in team teaching and joint research with engineering faculty in order to help attract and retain a more diverse student body.”

Krause said Baker’s skills have helped in the development of effective assessment tools to measure students' learning in terms of their skills, knowledge, and conceptual gain in areas such as engineering design, engineering teaching modules, middle school robotics design, and learning math and science through engineering design and construction of musical instruments.

The ITQ grant will further Baker’s work to help high school teachers develop strategies that promote genuine inquiry in science, build students’ academic language and help students craft scientific arguments through oral and written discourse strategies. The project’s science content includes physics, chemistry, geology/earth sciences, space and life sciences.

“We have data that teachers learn more science when it’s embedded in professional development and kids learn more science when it is embedded in this format,” explained Baker, who began her academic career studying anthropology and archaeology before earning her EdD in science education at Rutgers University. While working as a substitute teacher, she realized students are more motivated to learn when they are engaged in interesting science activities.

With this funding, CISIP will help teachers write interactive lesson plans that reflect the model in evidence, reasoning and structure of scientific argument. The students talk with their peers, defend their positions, question others’ positions and then write about it. Baker has been working closely with the Tempe Union and Phoenix Union High School districts.

“That’s a deep processing. We’ve discovered that if you’ve engaged in that kind of deep processing, then you’ve learned the science content,” Baker explained. “It really mirrors what the sciences do, so the overall goal is to produce science classroom discourse communities.”

Baker said the teachers learn to infuse learning principles, such as connecting facts to larger conceptual frameworks, into their daily lessons. Her research indicates that using these instructional strategies increases content acquisition and a better understanding of the nature of scientific communication.

“Teachers can write terrific lesson plans, and we have data that says students are aware of these new instructional strategies the teachers are using,” she said. “Kids are beginning to learn how to write scientific argument, which is very difficult for them.”

Middleton compared Baker to soul musician James Brown, who was called “the hardest working man in show business.”

“Dale Baker works like a demon. She works like a demon in her academic areas and like a demon promoting her graduate students, who join the academic ranks at the finest schools in country, where they are known as leaders,” he said. “All of these accomplishments are in the backdrop of providing more access and more equitable resources for our most needy students and those who traditionally have been left out.”