National Science Foundation, Missouri U. Chemistry Program Combines Science With Current News

When teachers strive to get students interested in math and science, they can find questions like “Why should I care?” or “How will this help me on the test?” frustrating. A unique teaching program that links chemistry to current events in the real world, Chemistry is in the News (CIITN) is being developed by University of Missouri-Columbia Professor Rainer Glaser to tackle this dilemma.

It is a significant thing that most decisions have a science issue at their core, said Glaser, a professor of chemistry. “The average age of people watching the evening news is 60,” said Glaser. “You have to understand science to understand the issue, and the news is a good source of science.”

Each group of students researches a topic such as global warming, stem cell research, or pharmaceuticals. They work in groups of four or five, and research the topic through online news articles and other Internet resources. The news portfolios that each group creates are then reviewed by other groups. Collaboration between the University of Colorado-Denver and the University of Haifa, Israel, will enable students to peer evaluate across campuses under the direction of Susan Schelbe and Uri Zoller, both chemistry professors at the UC-Denver.

CIITN began as a UM System initiative and was supported by MU-IATS for many years before becoming a major National Science Foundation initiative. A team led by Glaser is disseminating the program throughout the nation and around the world. As part of the team, Zhengyu Wu, a graduate student in chemistry, Kathleen Carson, a graduate student in the College of Education, Brian Hodgen, a research assistant in chemistry, and John Sui, a graduate student in chemistry, are members of the College.

Despite not being a chemist, Glaser believes that everyone needs to understand the basic concepts behind these issues in order to make informed decisions.

To get more professors interested in this innovative teaching initiative, Glaser and his team have published numerous articles about CIITN.

Despite the fact that Glaser believes this is a good initiative, implementation has been challenging. Most students simply want to read the facts in their textbooks. They don’t want to go deeper. The real payoff is the satisfaction you get when you comprehend something on more than one level. Facts aren’t the way to advance; insight is. You don’t advance with facts, you only advance with insight.

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Alex Jones

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