America's colleges and universities need to transform not only how but what they teach in introductory science courses, a group of scholars from Michigan State University argues in Science magazine.

(Read "5 Ways to Put STEM into Action.")

Melanie M. Cooper and colleagues say college students are expected to learn too many facts that do not connect across their coursework or prepare them to apply scientific knowledge in their lives. The scholars say that a different set of strategies taking hold in K-12 schools can be used to improve learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, during the first two years of college.

"We want students to develop a deep understanding of core ideas they can build on and put to use, not just facts they can regurgitate," says Cooper, Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education and professor of chemistry. "This is starting to happen for younger students and there's no reason it should stop at 12th grade."

As MSU faculty members from multiple science disciplines, the co-authors reportedly have spent the past two years doing what they recommend for institutions across the country: working together with faculty colleagues in their respective disciplines to decide what students should master in each "gateway" course. These are generally lecture courses with large enrollments and often little student participation.

The authors argue that faculty with diverse expertise at each institution must be involved and agree on core ideas to emphasize, such as "evolution" for biology or "structure and properties" for chemistry. They also must require students to use the content the same way scientists do. Teaching scientific practices, such as constructing models and using evidence to make arguments, is another key element of the Next Generation Science Standards, or NGSS, now influencing changes in K-12 schools in many states.

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