Public Release: 

SFU scientists seek teaching excitement at AAAS

Simon Fraser University

Thousands of scientists, including many from Simon Fraser University, will descend upon the Vancouver Convention Centre Feb. 16-20 to not only share research discoveries but also hone their skills as science educators.

They will share their teaching trade secrets at the 2012 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference, known as the world's largest science fair.

While many scientists are stepping out of often intimidating white lab coats to discuss their research, others are setting aside their lecture notes to foster student discovery and understanding of science in the classroom.

That's why SFU's Faculty of Science is sponsoring 10 faculty members, two staff and two graduate students to attend 14 AAAS symposium tracks on education.

These tracks cover everything from helping scientists address religious questions in the classroom to helping them use real-world problems instead of traditional subject-based material to engage young minds in learning science.

"Our goal is to bring our AAAS experience directly back to our programs so students can benefit," says Claire Cupples, SFU Faculty of Science dean, who is attending the education symposium.

"We already innovate with classes such as StudioPhysics in Surrey, which emphasize active learning by doing instead of just listening passively to long lectures. Our biology cohort program at the Burnaby campus and our Science Year One and Two programs at the Surrey campus offer smaller classes, more peer support and greater student-teacher interaction than traditional programs.

"We also have an interest in programs that give students the knowledge and the skills to navigate among different science disciplines using alternative learning methods, such as problem-solving."

George Agnes, SFU Faculty of Science associate dean, another conference attendee, will be looking for new best-teaching practices that could be incorporated into new science programming at the Surrey campus.

Agnes says one of the biggest challenges for science teachers today is helping students learn to perform three key tasks equally well. The tasks: experimenting, letting curiosity drive successful exploration, and assimilating hundreds of years worth of science advancement.

"Today's students necessarily need to learn and understand a significantly larger quantity of information than their counterparts from even just a decade ago before they can be expected to generate new knowledge," explains Agnes.

"We want to learn more about how to help students become active learners responsible for their own education.

"Learners who are engaged in their learning are creative and naturally develop stronger reasoning and observational skills that are applied to asking and answering questions through experiments. Those results are then compared to reference points established after hundreds of years of scientific discovery."

Two educational consultants who help SFU science and health science faculty to develop educational programs and innovate their teaching methods will also attend the AAAS education symposium.

"Our centre's consultation services have become much more discipline specific than they used to be," says Stephanie Chu, director of SFU's Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC). "So our educational consultants' ability to attend the AAAS conference alongside faculty will enhance their collaboration."


Contact: Claire Cupples (Burnaby resident), to contact Cupples: 778.782.5530,
George Agnes (Coquitlam resident), 778.782.9462,
Stephanie Chu (Coquitlam resident), 778.782.7244,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

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