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Open Access Publications from the University of California

This is a section of Leaders in Effective and Inclusive STEM: Twenty Years of the Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educators, edited by Scott Seagroves, Austin Barnes, Anne J. Metevier, Jason Porter, & Lisa Hunter. See the introduction for a more complete discussion and outline.

Articles describing activity designs:

Every PDP participant worked on a team to design some sort of STEM learning experience. Many articles in Learning from Inquiry in Practice  (2010) describe activity designs from the first decade of PDP participants; this section features more activity design descriptions from the PDP community.

Cover page of Self-guided Inquiry Modules for the Remote Teaching of Undergraduate Physics Labs

Self-guided Inquiry Modules for the Remote Teaching of Undergraduate Physics Labs


We present highlights from a series of hands-on physics lab modules developed for remote teaching. The labs were composed of multiple self-guided inquiry modules. Though the labs were developed from scratch, some modules that were central to the design process were borrowed from previous PDP sessions and the guiding PDP principles of mirroring authentic Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) practices (e.g., allowing students to raise questions and take ownership of decision making). One notable aspect of this work is that by sourcing and assembling low-cost ($25 per student) lab kits that were sent to each student, the majority of the modules were hands-on despite being fully online. Combining online resources and simulation tools with individual hardware kits and small lab groups allowed for a mix of synchronous and asynchronous exploration. This mixed lab mode was successful in promoting both inquiry exploration and community building. One example of a lab design choice aimed at overcoming online barriers was that in lieu of weekly lab write-ups, groups submitted video checkouts in which students were encouraged to reflect on the lab, self-assess their learning outcomes, and highlight unique aspects of their lab experience. This lab was specifically developed in response to the unforeseen challenges of online teaching; however, multiple aspects of the course will seamlessly transfer to an in-person lab setting.

Cover page of Designing and Implementing a PDP Inquiry Activity for an Introductory Astronomy Research Methods Course

Designing and Implementing a PDP Inquiry Activity for an Introductory Astronomy Research Methods Course


We designed, facilitated, and re-designed an inquiry activity in an introductory undergraduate astronomy research methods course at the University of Texas at Austin over two different semesters. The teaching venue for this inquiry activity took place in the course “AST 376R: A Practical Introduction to Research Methods”, the inquiry activity was inserted into an existing course structure, taking place over multiple class periods. We discuss how we were able to leverage the Professional Development Program (PDP) inquiry themes and introduce students to specific STEM practices, using this experience as a primer or mini version of a larger research activity and research experience that they would determine and lead themselves later on in the semester. In this paper we describe the benefits for students in this course and the lessons learned by the instructors.

Cover page of Galaxy-Classification Activity for All Ages

Galaxy-Classification Activity for All Ages


Classification is a general tool of science; it is used to sort and categorize biological organisms, chemical elements, astronomical objects, and many other things. In scientific classification, taxonomy often reflects shared physical properties that, in turn, may indicate shared origins and/or evolution. A “hands-on” galaxy-classification activity developed and implemented by Professional Development Program (PDP) participants, for a high-school summer STEM enrichment program, has been adopted for various age groups and venues, from young (K–3) to college students. We detail the basic tools required, outline the general activity, and describe the modifications to the activity based on learners’ ages and learning objectives. We describe the facilitation strategies learned through PDP training and used when implementing the activity, including prompts to motivate the students. We also discuss how we connected the classification process to astronomy and science more broadly during the concluding remarks.

Cover page of An Inquiry Approach to Teaching Sustainable Software Development with Collaborative Version Control

An Inquiry Approach to Teaching Sustainable Software Development with Collaborative Version Control


Software development is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in STEM disciplines resulting in the need for education in associated computational skills. To address this need, we designed a "Sustainable Software Development with Collaborative Version Control" workshop in the 2019 Institute for Scientist & Engineer Educators (ISEE) Professional Development Program (PDP). We describe here the development process and following delivery of the workshop. In particular, we explored how to apply an inquiry approach to learning computational skills. By design, PDP activities intertwine content and “cognitive STEM practices,” and teasing apart content and practice is important for STEM education. We encountered challenges with this task because our content — exploring software sustainability with collaborative version control — is much like a practice in itself. We designed our workshop to introduce the critical skill of sustainable software development using collaborative version control systems with an inquiry approach rather than the more typically used, strictly technical approach. We emphasize the authentic, broadly applicable nature of the workshop in which learners jointly design, test, and discuss their own increasingly complex development workflows. The development process for our workshop may be useful for educators who want to introduce software practices to learners from many disparate STEM disciplines that leverage computational methods and require software development to approach research questions.

Cover page of Teaching DNA Barcoding for the Identification of Algae

Teaching DNA Barcoding for the Identification of Algae


Here we discuss the design and implementation of an introductory DNA Barcoding module that we developed for the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s Science in Action Program, a two-week summer program that teaches high school students about Hawai‘i’s biodiversity. Students used the concept of characterization to explain the relationships among organisms using morphological, ecological, and molecular data. Additionally, students gained experience in the scientific practice of generating explanations by gathering multiple lines of evidence to support or refute a claim, linking claims with evidence, and presenting such claims in written and oral formats to identify unknown algae samples. During this activity, students also gained real-world research experience in the field of biodiversity research. We also discuss potential modifications for future iterations of this module.

Cover page of ClimateWEST: A Climate Science Activity

ClimateWEST: A Climate Science Activity


Data literacy and the ability to synthesize and communicate complex concepts are core components of modern scientific practice. Here we present the design and implementation of an inquiry activity about climate variability that was taught as a part of the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) Workshops for Engineering & Science Transfers (ClimateWEST) in 2019. The two-day activity introduced interdisciplinary undergraduate and community college transfer students pursuing graduate school to the field of climate science through a series of inquiry activities. Climate science is a complex topic, and research shows that there are certain concepts that are particularly difficult to grasp. Our climate activity focused on disentangling some of those misconceptions, by emphasizing the following themes or core dimensions of climate variability: (1) Climate varies on both shorter timescales (e.g. seasonal or annual cycle) and on longer timescales (e.g. climate change); (2) Both climate and climate trends vary spatially/geographically and are different from global climate; and (3) Climate is complex and includes not only temperature but also other key variables such as precipitation, ice, wind, ocean circulation, etc. We discuss the inquiry components, assessment-driven tools, facilitation and equity and inclusion design, as well as summarize students' progress toward our goals in the activity.

Cover page of Dose-Response in Context: A Backward Design, Inquiry Activity Workshop for College Transfer Students

Dose-Response in Context: A Backward Design, Inquiry Activity Workshop for College Transfer Students


The Workshops for Engineering and Science Transfers (WEST) program was designed to foster critical-thinking skills and develop a supportive community for new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) community college transfer students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, with the ultimate goal of improving student retention and persistence in STEM. All learners in the program participate in inquiry activities devised to incorporate elements of backward design and equity and inclusion. Here we discuss our 2019 Toxicology WEST workshop activity, an in-depth exploration of dose-response relationships created to provide an overview of the field of toxicology and clarify common misconceptions. To reflect authentic research design, we had learners assume the roles of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) scientists tasked with investigating the effects of environmental toxicants on the model organisms Caenorhabditis elegans and Daphnia magna. Learners were asked to design and conduct experiments to explore the dose-response relationship and report their results in a culminating poster symposium. We assessed learning by evaluating their performance on two tasks: an individual written response and a group poster presentation. Our activity gave learners an opportunity to practice experimental design, data analysis, and science communication before beginning UCSC STEM courses. Practicing these skills early is essential for student retention in STEM, as many students find the experimental process challenging. Here, we describe details of our inquiry workshop activity, reflect on the effectiveness of the activity and our assessment of student learning, and offer suggestions for facilitation and adaptation of our activity to additional educational contexts.

  • 1 supplemental PDF
  • 1 supplemental ZIP
Cover page of Ocean Circulation Activity that Incorporates Inquiry and the Use of Real-World Data

Ocean Circulation Activity that Incorporates Inquiry and the Use of Real-World Data


A multi-class period activity on the physical principals underlying ocean circulation was designed that utilizes real world data and inquiry pedagogies for use in an undergraduate, introductory oceanography course. Goals for the activity were for students to practice the scientific method, carry out an experiment of their own design, read and interpret real oceanographic data, and use their data, observations and relationships gleaned from these small-scale demonstrations, experiments, and activities to build an understanding of large-scale ocean circulation while practicing multiple inquiry process skills. Student outcomes related to both process skills and content knowledge improve as a result of the activity’s implementation, as indicated by a 14-percentage point increase in student scores on the same ocean circulation homework assigned in years before and after the new activity was created. During the COVID pandemic of 2020 this learning activity was taught in a hybrid classroom in which students could attend in-person or virtually; modifications to facilitate the successful use of the activity in this hybrid learning environment are described.

Cover page of Incorporating PDP Themes the Akamai Way

Incorporating PDP Themes the Akamai Way


As part of the Institute for Scientist and Engineer Educators Professional Development Program (PDP), our team designed an activity for the Akamai internship program’s Preparation for Research Experiences and Projects (PREP) course. The activity focused on content around different renewable energy and storage technologies, and the widely applicable engineering practice of optimization through iteration and evaluating trade-offs. Here we describe the overall activity, with primary emphasis on how the PDP backward design process and integration of the Equity & Inclusion (E&I) theme led us to design and implement a unique model we call the “expert training model” that has important E&I implications. We found that an educational activity design that focuses on E&I considerations, such as identifying multiple ways to productively participate and developing learners’ identity in STEM, simultaneously satisfies criteria for being an engaging and authentic STEM experience. We also reflect on potential pitfalls and ways to improve and adapt this model.