Science Learning Skills to be Evaluated

Contact: Ralph Derickson

Photo of Jeffrey L. Osborn
Jeffrey L. Osborn

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“If you provide underserved students with equal opportunities to learn, they will perform. We must strive to understand where these young students are coming from and have high expectations for their performance. By combining high expectations with sufficient resources and opportunities, they will excel in math and science."

-- Jeffrey L. Osborn,
principal investigator on the NSF project

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 6, 2004) -- A National Science Foundation (NSF) grant of nearly $2 million will enable the University of Kentucky to evaluate the science skills of more than 10,000 seventh and eighth grade Appalachian students during the next five years.

The education research will “determine whether students who have studied under middle school teachers who participated in UK-developed distance learning training in the physical sciences perform better than students learning science from those same teachers prior to having conducted such training,” said Jeffrey L. Osborn, professor of biological sciences and science outreach, Appalachian Math Science Partnership (AMSP) in the UK College of Arts and Sciences, and principal investigator on the NSF project.

The project is titled “Assessing How Distance Learning for Teachers Can Enable Inquiry Sciences in Rural Classrooms.”

The online teacher-training program, also a UK project, is titled Hands-On/Virtual (HOV) Physics and has been developed over the past three years under a grant program managed by co-principal investigators professors Joseph Straley and Sally Shafer in the Department of Physics. Teachers from the Appalachian areas of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia and southeastern Ohio will participate in summer training about physical science content knowledge and inquiry-based teaching techniques. The teacher training will continue throughout the academic year using the unique HOV Physics distance learning program.

“The design combines a model of distance or electronic learning with a hands-on, inquiry approach to the instruction of middle-school-level physical science,” said Osborn, who has a doctorate in physiology from Michigan State University.

Two faculty members who are co-principal investigators in the UK College of Education, assistant professor Rebecca McNall in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and Kelly Bradley, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies and Evaluation, will devise the qualitative and quantitative evaluations for the project. William Rayens, associate professor of statistics, will also serve as a co-principal investigator and conduct the data collection and analysis obtained from the Appalachian teachers and their students over the next five years.

Prior to joining the UK faculty, Osborn helped develop the Greater Hartford Academy of Mathematics and Science (1999-2004), a $110 million science center that, among other things, helped improve math and science education and outreach for urban and suburban Connecticut students.

Osborn received his Bachelor of Arts in biology from Amherst College and his Master of Science and doctorate in physiology from Michigan State University. He conducted research in hypertension and renal and cardiovascular function and taught medical physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wisc., from 1988 to 1999. His educational outreach work in Milwaukee culminated in the founding of the Milwaukee Public Schools. He then served as an adjunct professor of biology and neuroscience at Trinity College from 1999 to 2003, while serving as director of the Greater Hartford Academy of Math and Science.

Similar to the Connecticut project, “the objective of UK’s new NSF science teaching evaluation project is to learn more about the educational tools that effectively work to improve Appalachian students’ science and math skills,” Osborn said. “If you provide underserved students with equal opportunities to learn, they will perform. We must strive to understand where these young students are coming from and have high expectations for their performance. By combining high expectations with sufficient resources and opportunities, they will excel in math and science,” Osborn added.

Osborn joined the UK faculty in 2003 under the $22 million NSF-funded AMSP.


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