12th Symposium on Education


Chemistry of the Atmosphere: A student-centered undergraduate learning experience

Richard D. Clark, Millersville Univ., Millersville, PA; and S. Yalda

The course, 'Chemistry of the Atmosphere', was developed as an integral component of a NSF-CCLI-A&I award that enabled the acquisition of a suite of trace gas and particulate matter instruments, which are used to engage students in authentic science as the means to scientific inquiry and conceptualization. 'Chemistry of the Atmosphere' is an inherently interdisciplinary perspectives course serving both meteorology and chemistry majors, and any student having met the prerequisites. The course is appropriate for undergraduate students in their junior/senior years that have completed 36 credit hours in the liberal arts core and the prerequisites of English composition, plus one semester of introductory chemistry and introductory physics.

'Chemistry of the Atmosphere' incorporates adaptations in instructional design such that the classroom/laboratory environment is modeled after science-as-practiced. Students engage in the practice of science using real-time air quality data in conjunction with upper air and surface data, model output, and satellite and radar imagery available via Unidata's IDD system, to pursue investigations in their own solution frames and debate the merits of different processes for seeking solutions (scientific discourse). The instruments acquired through this NSF award are used as tools to authenticate the activities of scientists. Student apprentices engage in the methods of data collection, problem recognition and resolution (or at least understanding), critical thinking, and algorithm testing, as a means to discovery and knowledge transfer, while developing synergistic insights and social interactions through personal and group collaborations. Since the data are not contrived in a "canned" format, but are collected in real-time, students are presented with a true sense of open investigation, where they are accountable for their activities and the rhetorical aspects of scientific knowledge construction, all of which can lead to both qualitative and quantitative advances in the transfer of knowledge.

Students in 'Chemistry of the Atmosphere' are fully involved as practitioners, with fledgling chemists and meteorologists working in small groups and collaborating between groups. Maximum course enrollments of 24 students allow for the formation of 4-6 groups depending on the mix of disciplines - each group would ideally consist of students from both disciplines, with an occasional mix of Sociology, Geography, Physics, and Occupational Safety and Environmental Health majors.

Several levels of assessment are incorporated into the course. Students are required to maintain a log-journal that includes a self-assessment of their understanding of the scientific process, as well as an assessment of their role as practitioners. In addition, students working in small groups are required to develop a joint-reflection paper as an outgrowth of their log-journals and interactive discourse, incorporating their attitudes toward contextualization of scientific inquiry, expectations of what scientists do, differences in insights of the scientific study, and the benefits of authentication and cooperation. The paper is submitted in written form and presented orally as a culminating activity. Finally, in a more classic manner, students will be tested and their lab work evaluated to assess cognitive achievement.

extended abstract  Extended Abstract (160K)

Session 5, University Educational Initiatives
Tuesday, 11 February 2003, 1:30 PM-3:00 PM

Next paper

Browse or search entire meeting

AMS Home Page