College of Science & Engineering

Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education

Current Projects:

Developing and Validating Assessments to Measure and Build Elementary Teachers’ Content Knowledge for Teaching about Matter and Its Interactions within Teacher Education Settings

This collaborative project with Educational Testing Service (ETS) is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation DRK12 program (NSF #s 1813254, 1814275). Our project is creating tools to support the measurement and development of content knowledge for teaching (CKT) -- which is the specialized knowledge teachers use to engage in the work of teaching elementary science. The first tool, created by ETS, is an assessment instrument that can be used to measure CKT proficiency over time. The second tool, created by WWU, is a set of educative curriculum materials designed to support teacher educators in building elementary teachers’ CKT in teacher education and professional development settings.

The content focus for our work in developing materials for CKT is matter. As emphasized in the NGSS and Framework for Science Education, the concept of matter is central to understanding many scientific ideas. While there is a robust empirical base highlighting student difficulties and possible learning progressions for matter there is currently a lack of content-specific teaching knowledge relevant to teaching about matter in the elementary years. Curriculum materials have been suggested as a means of supporting teacher learning for several decades, and this work is innovative in its focus on developing curriculum materials to support teacher educators’ learning. The “CKT Packets” we are developing and testing are built around a CKT  learning task at the intersection of a specific content idea (e.g., conservation of matter) and a science teaching practice (e.g., eliciting student ideas). Packets are flexibly designed for use in a variety of course contexts (e.g., content courses or methods courses) and professional development settings. Educative features of the CKT packets, including annotated lessons, reading pages, and background information, are intended to support teacher educators in engaging elementary teachers and teacher candidates in the task in ways that support the development of their CKT. Specific supports are provided to help teacher educators anticipate, elicit, and understand elementary teachers’ thinking in regard to the focus CKT learning goals.

For more information, visit our project website: or a member of our project team:

Advancing Excellence and Equity in Science at WWU

The Advancing Excellence and Equity in Science (AEES) program is funded by a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Inclusive Excellence grant for $1 million over 5 years, starting in September, 2017.  The major goal of this program is to enhance the number of women, under-represented minorities, and first generation students in the natural sciences (biology, chemistry, geology, physics and astronomy).

The AEES program takes a multi-faceted approach to improve the success of students.  First year and transfer students are in cohorts during a two seminar course sequence which emphasizes reading science articles, modeling scientific results, and topics related to the process of learning, such as growth mindset, metacognition, and study habits.  Faculty and peer mentoring occur in conjunction with the seminars.  First year students take a new math course designed to delve into mathematical concepts important for the natural sciences (e.g., logarithms, fractions, scientific notation) in scientific contexts.  A special section of English 101 for AEES students emphasizes scientific readings.  Faculty and teaching assistants are being trained to use inclusive, student-centered learning approaches in their teaching; these teaching strategies have been shown to enhance the success of all students.  Finally, policies that may negatively influence the success of faculty seeking to transform science education and traditionally under-represented students will be identified and modified.

For more information click here PDF icon AAES.pdf or contact:

Joann Otto, Project Director

or one of the members of the Core Leadership Team:

Spencer Anthony-Cahill, Chair, Chemistry
Emily Borda, SMATE Director
Jessica Cohen, Math
Edward Geary, Emeritus faculty

NextGen STEM Teacher Preparation in Washington State (NextGen-WA)

This $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF IUSE program) will help create the next generation of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) teacher-preparation programs in the state.

The program is built around a common vision of STEM education in Washington State, and Western’s $1.8 million is part of a larger $3 million grant that was distributed among seven state partners: Western, Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Seattle Pacific University, WSU-Vancouver, UW-Tacoma and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland. Also participating in the study are faculty from the University of Washington, Washington State University, Walla Walla University, Whitman College, Heritage University, Northwest University, Western Governor’s University, and Seattle University as well as a number of two-year institutions and K-12 schools.

NextGen-WA is a collaborative effort by all the partners to make the science and mathematics teachers of tomorrow far more ready to enter the classroom and prepare Washington students for 21st century STEM jobs. By collaborating, instead of competing, we hope that NextGen-WA can serve as a model that can be replicated in other states or regions.

Besides creating better prepared STEM teachers, our project will also address a critical state need for graduating more teachers who reflect the state’s demographic diversity.

For more information go to the NextGen website

Edward Geary, Principal Investigator, email:
Roxane Ronca, Project Director, email:
Julie Antilla, Co-Principal Investigator, SPU, email:
Kathryn Baldwin, Co-Principal Investigator, EWU, email:
Jennifer Dechaine, Co-Principal Investigator, CWU, email:
Tamara Holmlund Nelson, Co-Principal Investigator, WSU Vancouver, email:

Unifying Science for Students

A central assumption in most systems of education is that students can apply knowledge and skills beyond the context in which it was originally learned.  However, evidence in the education research literature of successful applications of knowledge across contexts, also called transfer, has been scarce.  In this project, research will be conducted within an undergraduate course series for future elementary teachers designed to develop coherent ideas about energy across four different science disciplines:  physics, Earth science, biology, and chemistry. A longitudinal study will generate quantitative measures of the transfer of energy concepts from the original learning context, physics, to a target domain, chemistry. Interviews, classroom observations, and analysis of written class work will be used to describe “what transfer looks like” by developing a taxonomy of discipline-specific transfer attempts. Finally, a quasi-experimental study will investigate the impact of metacognitive writing assignments on transfer.  Documenting what works in supporting transfer is imperative because transfer is both known to be elusive and is an assumed outcome on which many education systems are built. Finally, this project may help to establish the integrated science course series as a model of teacher preparation, and science education in general, for potential adaptation at other institutions.

For more information contact:

Emily Borda, Co-Principal Investigator, email:
Andrew Boudreaux, Co-Principal Investigator, email:
Todd Haskell, Co-Principal Investigator, email:
Sara Julin, Co-Principal Investigator, WCC, email:

Change at the Core (C-CORE)

Change at the Core: A Collaborative Model for Undergraduate STEM Education Reform (C-Core) is an NSF-funded institutional transformation project. Three institutions, Western Washington University, Whatcom Community College, and Skagit Valley College, are working together to transform courses in Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Engineering, Environmental Science, Geology, Mathematics, and Physics from teacher- to student-centered learning environments. Currently, over 100 STEM faculty are participating in professional development workshops, implementing and observing evidence-based teaching and learning practices, and collaborating on curriculum changes and course alignment across the three institutions. Challenges include: student resistance to change, classroom and laboratory spaces not designed to support student-centered learning, assessments poorly aligned with student-centered learning practices, and faculty uncertainty about how to address the needs of diverse students. Preliminary data from student focus groups, faculty surveys, and case studies suggest that these challenges can be at least partially overcome through active engagement of department chairs, faculty learning communities, innovative student grouping strategies, explicit support and recognition for faculty reform efforts from deans, and establishment of regular communication among faculty, chairs, deans, and other administrators across the three institutions.

For more information go to the:

C-Core website

Read the latest C-Core article 

Initial implementation of active learning strategies in large, lecture STEM courses: lessons learned from a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary STEM faculty development program


or contact:

Edward Geary, Principal Investigator, email:
Joann Otto, Co-Principal Investigator, email:
Emily Borda, Co-Principal Investigator, email: