David Aguilar
(617) 495-7462

Christine Pulliam
(617) 495-7463


CfA Press Release
 Release No.: 04-30
For Release: Friday, October 1, 2004

Testing How Well Science Teachers Know What They Teach

Cambridge, MA--The National Science Foundation has awarded a five-year, $2.4 million grant to the Science Education Department (SED) of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The grant will fund the department's Misconception Oriented Standards-based Assessment Resource for Teachers (MOSART) project.

The Foundation awarded the grant through its Math and Science Partnership (MSP) program, whose goal is to strengthen K-12 science and mathematics education in support of "No Child Left Behind."

MOSART is part of SED's continuing effort to improve science education throughout the country by determining the best ways of instructing both teachers and students. The goal of Project MOSART is to improve teachers' professional development by designing methods for testing their understanding of science topics that they will be covering in their classrooms.

"We will look at a question that has concerned a lot of people: what is the contribution of a teacher's scientific knowledge to the gains their students undergo? We will try to measure the influence of professional development courses on teacher knowledge and, more importantly, on the conceptual gains of those teachers' students," says Dr. Philip Sadler, the principal investigator for MOSART and director of SED.

MSP Institutes, which are affiliated with the Foundation's MSP Program, and other professional development programs for teachers, need to evaluate the science understanding of participants. By measuring the ability of science teachers to comprehend subjects listed within national science education standards, these programs aim to improve the overall quality of classroom instruction. One teacher reaches many students, so improved teacher development programs can impact thousands of students nationwide.

The MOSART team will develop tests to assess the degree to which teachers possess the knowledge and understanding required by national standards.

Those same test questions will prove useful to students as well. "Many people think that if students pass tests like the Massachusetts MCAS, they can handle college. However, about half of the students who pass the tests end up needing remedial classes. We will construct new kinds of tests that allow students to test themselves and see if they're ready for college science courses," says Sadler.

MOSART is a direct outgrowth of Sadler's earlier efforts, including the video "A Private Universe," which revealed that astronomical preconceptions are remarkably tenacious even among highly educated Harvard graduates. In that video, Harvard University students filmed on commencement day were unable to provide a correct explanation for the cause of the Earth's seasons.

Sadler's awards include the 2002 Thomas J. Brennan Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and a 1999 award from the Journal of Research in Science Teaching.

Other SED members of the MOSART team include Hal Coyle, Cindy Crockett and Bruce Ward.

Headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) is a joint collaboration between the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Harvard College Observatory. CfA scientists, organized into six research divisions, study the origin, evolution and ultimate fate of the universe.

For more information, contact:

David Aguilar, Director of Public Affairs
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Phone: 617-495-7462 Fax: 617-495-7468

Christine Pulliam
Public Affairs Specialist
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
Phone: 617-495-7463, Fax: 617-495-7016

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