Transforming STEM Education at a Two-year College through InterDisciplinary Investigations (IDIs) in First-Year Chemistry and Biology Courses

Project No.
PI Name
Kalyn Owens
North Seattle College
Target Discipline

Abstract 1

Transforming STEM Education at a Two-year College through InterDisciplinary Investigations (IDIs) in First-Year Chemistry and Biology Courses

Presentation Type
Kalyn Shea Owens, North Seattle College Ann Murkowski, North Seattle College Heather Price, North Seattle College Anne Johansen, Central Washington University


The American Association for the Advancement of Science (2012), the National Academy of Sciences (2010), and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (2011) have all issued a call for change in the way we educate our students in science. Innovation in STEM education is essential for meeting the needs of the 21st century learner and for creating STEM programs that attract, retain and produce individuals with the skills and knowledge to compete globally. A community college setting provides an opportunity to broaden participation of individuals in the STEM pipeline, but in order to do this, community colleges must be innovative and must be willing to make changes. At the heart of improving how we educate future scientists is the development of sophisticated thinking dispositions within and across disciplines. The work of Project Zero on the Visible Thinking Project (Ritchhard & Perkins, 2008) provides a model for how to create cultures of thinking where the act of thinking and making thinking visible is valued, nurtured and practiced daily. Using this -thinking is valued- framework, high impact practices such as undergraduate research can be viewed as a vehicle to cultivate meaningful thinking opportunities, and therefore should be included in the first year of the college experience. Interdisciplinary experiences for students also provide a method for incorporating complex thinking into daily activities. This is especially true if the goal of these activities is to create opportunities for students to co-construct new knowledge that requires expertise from more than one discipline. In this way, the RISE project is weaving interdisciplinary and research-based curriculum together across disciplines and eventually across a variety of institutions. This transformative approach will impact a broad range of individuals, and evidence-generating research will be conducted to guide the design of this model for institutionalizing a 21st century STEM education at a two year college.


The RISE project seeks to
A) provide progressive and innovative STEM curriculum that significantly improves preparation of diverse student populations for upper level courses and careers in science,

B) establish the foundation for a Pacific Northwest Collaboration focused on excellence in STEM education at the two-year college level, and

C) make a significant contribution to the body of knowledge regarding our understanding of how students think, learn, and problem solve in a research and interdisciplinary context early in the college experience.

We will work towards our goals through four project objectives:
Objective 1:Transform introductory chemistry and biology series for STEM students to be both interdisciplinary and research-based,

Objective 2: Design and implement a sustainable undergraduate research program for 2nd year students,

Objective 3: Gain a better understanding of the student learning and thinking processes that occur as a result of engaging with interdisciplinary and research-based curricular modules in first and second year STEM courses,

Objective 4: Widely disseminate RISE project curriculum, results and transformative approach to designing introductory science courses


A design-based research approach has been implemented as a means to design, redesign and assess new curriculum. In addition, as our process has developed, we have created a 'design' rubric for our Interdisciplinary Investigations that outlines both Best Practice and Essential Practice. The purpose of this rubric is to create a common language and approach around bringing interdisciplinary curriculum into introductory science classrooms that is robust and engages students in complex thinking and reasoning activities.

We are also in the process of utilizing the work of Veronica Boix Mansilla (Harvard School of Education), to assess interdisciplinary thinking in a traditional chemistry classroom. We've combined video captures with her foundational knowledge in assessing interdisciplinary learning to gain a better understanding of how the IDI framework is expanding learning outcomes for introductory science courses.

All four PIs and our evaluator are currently involved in this work.


In this first year, the RISE PI and Co-PIs have worked collaboratively on all project objectives. The following outcomes and deliverables are available from our first year of work:

Interdisciplinary Investigations (IDIs):
Designed and piloted four Interdisciplinary Investigations (IDI) in the general chemistry series: Carbon Cycling, Epigenetics, Aquaporin, and Hemoglobin. Each of these IDIs includes materials to CONNECT the students in both their core chemistry content as well as engage them in a relevant, exciting question or application. Follow-up materials then allow students to EXTEND into both the primary literature as well as key biological concepts. The final component presents an interdisciplinary CHALLENGE that forces students to work collaboratively to apply knowledge from both disciplines to address the initial question or application.

Undergraduate Research Curriculum:
Created Outcomes, assignments, assessment tools, and framework for year-long undergraduate research program that is transportable. Project descriptions and results from faculty research projects that involve students are available, along with student portfolios.

Student Learning and Evaluation Results from the following instruments:

From UGR students:
1. Pre and post-written student perceptions on learning gains,
2. Pre and post oral interviews (video),
3. Portfolios of student work

From General Chemistry Students:
1. Written student perceptions on learning gains,
2. Pre and post oral interviews (video),
3. Pre- and post drawings from the collaborative, interdisciplinary challenge in the IDIs.

Next year we are working towards using video capture method in combination of with other tools, to gain a better understanding of the thinking that occurs as a result of working in the IDI framework. We are designing and piloting a research-based experience in the lab portion of General Chemistry. We are expanding the curriculum to include the Biology series, and we are working to submit an article for publication.

Broader Impacts

RISE senior personnel consist of 4 women scientists from two collaborating institutions who have extensive experience in designing innovative curriculum and who are passionate about
encouraging women and minorities to pursue careers in science. The work the RISE team is doing is specifically focused on broadening participation of individuals in STEM programs and gaining a better understanding of pedagogical approaches that meet the needs of underrepresented students in the sciences. North Seattle College is federally designated as both an AANAPISI (Asian American Native American Pacific Islander Serving Institution) eligible institution and as a Minority Serving Institution. Dissemination of RISE materials and results have already impacted a wide range of educators and will continue to do so as we make more progress in the years to come. Ultimately, we seek to initiate a Pacific Northwest collaboration for excellence in STEM education at two-year colleges.

During this first year, the team made substantial efforts to begin dissemination of the project and solicit input and feedback from STEM faculty. Specifically, the team:
1. Presented the IDI model and assessment at the national American Chemical Society meeting in Denver,
2. Presented the IDI and UGR model at the American Chemical Society Two Year College Chemistry Consortium (2YC3) meeting in Honolulu,
3. Presented the IDI classroom and lab model at the Washington State College Chemistry Teachers Association (WCCTA) meeting in Leavenworth, WA,
4. Reached out to other chemistry faculty at North Seattle College to obtain buy-in for adding additional course sections to the pilot for the 2015-2016 academic year.

During the first year the project impacted the following individuals:
48-50 students each quarter for three quarters, 3 science faculty, 100-125 conference faculty who were present at our presentations.

Going forward, we will be working with other two-year colleges to implement IDI modules at these institutions.

Unexpected Challenges

There have been no unexpected challenges.



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