The University of Pennsylvania

While I was at the University of Pennsylvania I focused my research on the teaching and learning of science in urban high schools and learning to teach in urban high schools. At the same time I was involved in research that involved elementary teaching, learning, and learning to teach and the teaching and learning of science at the college level.

I expanded my collaboration with Wolff-Michael Roth, focusing on applications of sociocultural theory to research in science education and developing a research and development program associated with coteaching. The research on coteaching led to research on cogenerative dialogue.

I undertook collaborative research and development with faculty in the Department of Chemistry. This work was principally involved with the preparation of high school chemistry teacher’s, who obtained a Master’s degree in Chemistry Education from the University of Pennsylvania. A number of teacher researchers associated with my research in urban high schools enrolled for this degree program and graduated with a master’s degree in chemistry education. These included Sonya Martin, Linda Loman Flohr, and Cristobal Carambo who went on to obtain doctoral degrees from Curtin University. Cath Milne came from Australia in a postdoctoral position to work on the projects with the chemistry department. Other colleagues like Kate Scantlebury also were closely involved in this ongoing work with me, and faculty from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania.

When I first arrived at Penn I was still involved with a distance-learning project that we had pioneered. Together with colleagues from Florida State University we had developed Connecting Communities of Learners, web-based software that allowed graduate students, from Miami-Dade in Florida, to undertake their graduate studies in an interactive way. We had developed the software based on sociocultural – dialogic theory – to promote verbal interactions that would heighten and expand learning possibilities. After a year or two of development at the University of Pennsylvania there was some initial interest from a scholar in the Wharton school – but the interest waned and competing on the best software, principally Blackboard, began to monopolize the market. With the economic emphases on development I ceased my involvement in this project.

I was concerned with my own theoretical development as a scholar and decided to expand my understanding of cultural sociology in particular and other areas that were germane to the work I was doing in urban schools – such as African American psychology. I decided to register for courses at Penn so that I would engage seriously in learning and situate myself with greater expertise in terms of the use of sociocultural theory. I studied several courses with Diana Crane-Herve, and one very interesting course with Howard Stevenson Oddly enough some of the administrators at Penn strongly discouraged me from taking doctoral level courses for credit within my own graduate school. Obviously I disagree strongly with this stance. One of the key features/bonuses of being in the University is having the opportunity to learn from colleagues through formal and informal channels. I was reminded of the grant administrator from the Florida Department of Education who once chided me – “why should I fund graduate courses for teachers in high schools and community colleges when your colleagues at the University will not enroll for credit in the same courses?” It was a good point that I never forgot. It is surprising that there are not “use by” date stamps on the degrees we label as terminal!

The research project “Teaching and learning of science in urban high schools” was extremely productive and continued until after I had commenced at the Graduate Center in New York. The study had numerous features including the education/development on the number of teacher researchers who completed graduate degrees and took up university appointments. The research also included a number of student researchers who were selected because they were in danger of dropping out of high school. The students not only remained in high school, but in most cases went on to college and their success stories are an ongoing focus of interest – more than a dozen years after the project began. Rowhea Elmesky, who had been a graduate student who worked with me at Florida State University, joined the project as a postdoctoral research fellow. She did amazing research at Penn before earning promotion and tenure at Washington University in St. Louis.

Selected publications

The associated publications arising from the research undertaken at the University of Pennsylvania from 1997 until the fall of 2003 yielded 7 books, 28 journal articles, and 29 book chapters.

Academic award for publication

Improving Urban Science Education: New Roles for Teachers, Students, and Researchers Edited by Kenneth Tobin, Rowhea Elmesky, and Gale Seiler 

Series: Reverberations: Contemporary Curriculum and Pedagogy (Rowman and Littlefield 2005). This book received the CHOICE Award for Outstanding Academic Title 2005: “Selected for their excellence in scholarship and presentation, the significance of their contribution to the field, and their value as important–often the first treatment of their subject.” Choice Magazine, January 2007.

Grants Obtained While at The University of Pennsylvania (1997-2003)

1. 1998-99. Voices from the inside: A study of secondary teacher education. Small research grant from the Spencer Foundation ($34,795).

2. 1999-2004. Teacher enhancement in chemistry: Creation of a master in chemical education program for secondary school teachers in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. ESI-9911825; Co-PI $618,727 (five year grant Co-PI with Hai-Lung Dai) National Science Foundation.

3. 1999-2002. GK-12 Access Science: Tomorrow’s scientists assisting in-service and pre-service teachers and their students. ($ 1,497,902, DUE-9979635 senior faculty associate with Dennis DeTurck as PI) National Science Foundation.

4. 2000-2001. Learning to teach science in urban settings through coteaching. Small research grant from the Spencer Foundation ($35,000).

5. 2001-2005. Teaching and learning of science in urban high schools. REC-0107022; PI ($1,161,356). National Science Foundation.


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