The Host*: Developing new tools to engage next generations with science

The topics of scientific inquiry and nature of science are the major foci of our work in the Department of Mathematics and Science Education at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in Chicago.


Sue, the largest, most complete Tyrannosaurus rex (85%) ever discovered, at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History © Shoffman11

For example, we worked on the High School Transformation Project (HSTP). HSTP was dedicated to changing the way science is taught at 23 Chicago high schools. We designed curricula in biology, chemistry, and physics that enhance foundational science knowledge, inquiry skills and knowledge, and nature of science through authentic and relevant learning experiences.

For example, in a class lesson designed to learn atomic structure, students had to follow various learning steps: Read the related book chapter; answer questions like “What are living things made up of?” and “What are elements made of?”; work hands on with true objects (in this case beans, peas and strings) to represent the atomic structure, and so on.

To ensure the success of the HSTP program, we provided each participating teacher with continuous and intensive support including on-site, expert, experienced instructional coaches, science faculty and graduate students. There were weekly networking meetings for all teachers. Scientists and educators from IIT and the Field Museum provided monthly professional development. Materials and activities were designed to specifically connect with each school’s diverse cultures and community interests.

Internship zone

I hosted Christian Strippel from the Chemistry Education group at Ruhr-University Bochum for his RESOLV internship in two stints: Fall 2014 and Spring 2016. During his first stay at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), we discussed preliminary ideas on the RESOLV exhibition and it was exciting to see how these ideas turned into the exhibition “Völlig losgelöst”. We also worked with Christian on a paper about research on teachers’ implementation of scientific inquiry in German Chemistry classrooms, which was recently published in the International Journal of Science Education.


Business dinner for young researchers at Peggy Notebart Nature Museum © Christian Strippel

Currently at IIT, we are conducting an international study on seventh grade students’ views about scientific inquiry. Science education researchers have been so far disappointed at what students learn about inquiry in schools, but this has been a feeling mainly based on perception. In fact, until recently, there has never been a comprehensive valid and reliable assessment of students’ understandings of inquiry. The Views About Scientific Inquiry (VASI) was developed at IIT and we are now working with researchers all over the world (i.e., 18 countries) to get a baseline assessment of what seventh grade students understand about inquiry. This will lead to a better idea of how we can engage the next generation with the practices and processes of science – be it as future scientists or as citizens in a global society influenced by science and research.

*The host is a new series of blog posts, revealing the perspective and the work of the scientist hosting RESOLV students for an internship.  

About the author


Norman G. Lederman is Distinguished Professor of Mathematics and Science Education at the Illinois Institute of Technology. He has a Ph.D. in Science Education from Syracuse University (1983); M.S. in Secondary Education from Bradley University (1977); M.S. in Biology from New York University (1973); B.S. in Biology from Bradley University (1971). He is internationally known for his work on students’ and teachers’ understandings of nature of science and scientific inquiry.

Welcome to the Windy City

When you travel across the ocean for a research stay, you expect to feel a breeze of fresh air in your project. Going to Chicago is the perfect place for this because it is called the “Windy City” for a reason. This is the story of my research stay with Norman Lederman and the group of Science Education at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT).

Chicago from the sky

Chicago from the sky

I had been abroad for my studies before. I had been to Cambridge and Edinburgh in the UK. Both are traditional places of learning located in old, relatively small cities. Chicago was different from the start. It impresses with sheer size and modernity. At first, it feels daunting to walk down Adams Street between skyscrapers from the early 20th century towards Willis Tower, still one of the tallest buildings in the world. However, it was at that moment, when I realized that I had come to a city full of opportunity, where sky is indeed the limit. Seizing these opportunities was my main goal for my research stay.

Originally, I had come to Chicago with a clear purpose in mind. I had contacted Prof. Lederman at the Illinois Institute of Technology in the early summer because he is an expert in the field of learning and teaching about scientific inquiry. We had agreed that I would spend six weeks with him and his group writing an article about work I had done earlier and discussing my PhD project. Already in my first meeting, I was impressed with his personal warmth but also with his work rate. He had just returned from a research project in China the day before but took almost two hours to get to know me and discuss the plan for my research stay. From that very first day, I always had the opportunity to give drafts of the research article to Prof. Lederman and received feedback within a day or two. As a result, the article has now been submitted for review with an international journal.

Science Zone

Our aim is to engage learners with the process of scientific inquiry. To achieve this, we create learning environments that provide hands-on scientific inquiry experiences. In RESOLV, we created a one-day project for the Alfried Krupp School Laboratory. Currently, we are developing an exhibition on cutting-edge research and how it is done. In the exhibition, the visitors will also be able to create and carry out their own investigations. On both these activities, we collect data on how participants communicate about the process of scientific inquiry. We analyze this data to create a model of conditions that either promote or inhibit the participants’ engagement with scientific inquiry.

Please visit our website for more information:

While working on the article happened exclusively with Prof. Lederman, I had the opportunity of discussing my PhD project with various members of his chair. It was fascinating and demanding to explain, exchange and debate my ideas to and with experienced research staff as well as other PhD students from countries stretching from China over Chile to the US. In the end, I have a new instrument for data collection in my arsenal and a much firmer idea about the relevance (and limitations!) of my project.

Science educator meeting at the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum

Science educator meeting at the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum

Yet, when you travel, you always get more than you expect. Prof. Lederman’s chair is a hub for science educators in Chicago. So, I met people from various education communities: museum educators, university outreach staff and teachers, of course. Every new contact was a further chance to experience the American ways of science educations. I was especially grateful for people to invite me to their workplaces at other universities and in museums to observe and discuss their approaches to educating the public about science. Furthermore, the permanent PhD students in the group also took me along to science educator meetings all over the city in museums and at universities, where I had the chance to participate in discussions about science education and science education research.

Finally, I would like to thank Prof. Lederman and his group for hosting me and making every effort to engage with my research and with me as a person. I would also like to thank IIT for providing me with accommodation for my stay. I am convinced that the relationships we have built will continue to be fruitful for all parties in the future.

Halloween and farewell celebration with the Lederman group. (Prof. Lederman first from the left, sitting)

Halloween and farewell celebration with the Lederman group.
(Prof. Lederman first from the left, sitting)

Link to Illinois Institute of Technology


About the Author

@ RUB, Foto: Nelle

Christian Strippel was born 1988 in Bochum and holds a M.Ed. in Chemistry and English. His (scientific) motto of life is: “Fortune favours the prepared mind.” – Louis Pasteur
He studied in Cambridge (UK) for one year and holds a Postgraduate Certificate of Education (Chemistry, University of Cambridge). Currently, he works on his Ph.D. project “Communication about scientific inquiry during experimentation”.