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Global climate change is the topic; global climate change researcher Gidon Eshel helps to craft the seminar

GREAT BARRINGTON – Two groups of 12-15 students are part of a pilot Science Seminar at Simon’s Rock this semester.  The Science Seminar, part of a larger Math and Science Initiative, will change the way science is taught at Simon’s Rock, and could serve as a model for other liberal arts colleges.

Bard College at Simon's Rock received a $300,000 Davis Education Foundation grant to support the Science Seminar and the Math and Science Initiative. “This grant is a significant endorsement of our vision for math and science at Simon's Rock, and a reflection of the creative work already put into developing the program,” said Provost Mary B. Marcy. The Davis grant will also support a quantitative literacy staff position and lab and computer resources.

A group of four math and science faculty created this seminar.  Bard Center Faculty Fellow at Simon's Rock Gidon Eshel, a leading climate scientist, is assisting the four faculty members in its implementation. The interdisciplinary class will address global climate change in its projects.  

Academic Dean Samuel Ruhmkorff said the Science Seminar will completely change the way science is taught at Simon's Rock, and could serve as a model to other liberal arts colleges that are trying to get away from the common approach to science and math education.  At liberal arts colleges, mathematics and sciences are often avoided by students, and a ghetto of science courses intended for those who don’t like science is created. Faculty who teach these courses and the students who enroll are often less than excited by them.  One unhappy result:  students graduate without math and science literacy, even from the most prestigious colleges.

An unusual feature of the Seminar, in addition to the hands-on approach and the timely topic of climate change, is that students with little science experience and those with strong science backgrounds will be learning together.  In their proposal to the Davis Foundation, the faculty made a case for this desegregation:

 “Science and mathematics education in the United States typically involves the segregation of students with an interest in and aptitude for science and mathematics from those who – for whatever reason – experience anxiety, disinterest, or difficulty in these subjects.  This approach does not serve students well.  Segregation does not provide an expectation of competence and fluency in the sciences for all students, and students not majoring in the sciences are not exposed to those who are enthusiastic and engaged in the material, nor are they able to rely on informal and formal peer tutoring from such students.”

Features of the Science Seminar:

-  Interdisciplinary, mathematics and sciences: Global climate change lends itself well to a broad range of scientific and mathematical fields, including statistics, thermodynamics, paleontology, atmospheric chemistry, and computer modeling of large-scale physical systems.  This topic lends itself to inquiry-based learning through research projects focused on the local environment as well, in this case, the Berkshire and Hudson Valley region.

-  Desegregated:  Science and Math education in the U.S. typically involves segregation of math/science and non-math/science students. This program is unique in that students who have strong math/science backgrounds will be in the same classes as those who have managed to largely avoid the sciences and math.

-  Inquiry-driven, hands-on:  Students will do science, not simply review what has already been well established.  This feature is actually very unusual.  Most undergraduates, even when they study science, do not get to do much, if any, real science.  In this seminar, they will be learning alongside their faculty; they will have the experience of asking the questions and setting out to learn what they need to learn to try to answer the questions, rather than answering questions to which scientists already know the answers. 

Simon's Rock Sciences Chair Michael Bergman, a geophysicist who led the effort to develop the Seminar, hopes that all students can really get a feeling for the way scientists work, what science really is - including the asking of questions.  One result may be that more students chose to study science and do science as a career, but as important, as he sees it, is that the students will be informed citizens, better able to read newspapers and understand the graphs and charts that are presented as arguments for policies and programs.

Simon's Rock Media Contact:
Briee Della Rocca: 413 644-4706
E-mail: bdellarocca@simons-rock.edu