Kirchgassler and Wyeth Feinstein share their expertise in science education with attendees at the University of Wisconsin Schools of Chemistry meeting

Kirchgassler and Wyeth Feinstein share their expertise in science education with attendees at the University of Wisconsin Schools of Chemistry meeting

November 13, 2023

The Department of Chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison recently hosted 2023 University of Wisconsin Chemistry System Faculties Meeting. The event attracted about 70 faculty and staff from 11 different UW System institutions to Madison Nov. 3-4 for an array of opportunities to share and learn with and from each other.

As part of the event, Noah Wyeth-Feinstein and Katie Kirchgasler — two science education faculty members in the prestigious Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the Wisconsin-Madison College of Education — gave topical presentations to attendees.


“Their pioneering research on worthwhile goals of science education and the making of hierarchies in STEM education has changed the way I think about problems in teaching and learning,” says Ryan Stowe, assistant professor in the Department of Chemistry and director of the Department of Chemistry. Stowe group.

Wyeth Feinstein gave a presentation on November 3rd on the topic: “Three Ideas (Perhaps) More Useful Than Scientific Literacy: Competent Outsiders, Cognitive Networks, and Appropriate Respect.”

“The phrase ‘scientific literacy’ has carried the hopes and ambitions of our field for the better part of a century—but perhaps it’s time to move on,” says Wyeth-Feinstein. “What other ideas can help us understand the value of science education to society? What assumptions should we challenge in response to the intersecting threats to democracy, peace, justice, climate, and environmental stability that underpin our cultures?”

Wyeth Feinstein

Wyeth Feinstein presented three concepts that may help define more specific goals for science education. It is to explain:

  • “Competent outsiders” are people who recognize when science has some impact on their needs and interact with sources of scientific expertise in ways that help them achieve their own goals.
  • “Cognitive networks” are interconnected groups of people who support understanding by providing new information and helping to interpret and reconstruct scientific knowledge in context.
  • “Appropriate respect” means giving limited weight and credibility to scientific claims and institutions when relevant and with knowledge of limitations.

On November 4, Kirchgasler gave a presentation titled “Making Hierarchies in STEM Higher Education: Why the Forgotten History of Our Fields Matters Today.”


“STEM education scholars have recently highlighted two concerns — the exclusion of minority students through curricular tracking and the intake standards faced by students who gain access to advanced coursework and careers,” says Kirchgasler.

Kirchgassler explains how these two issues are talked about separately, either by trying to broaden participation within the status quo system, or by broadening what might be considered the alchemy to be learned (for example, the scientific, social, and political dimensions of environmental racism or health inequalities). ). ).

“Paradoxically, both well-intentioned approaches may lead to unintended consequences,” says Kirchgasler.

Her presentation then addressed how chemistry education began to manufacture student hierarchies and then match them with hierarchies of scientific content. Kirchgassler explains how nineteenth- and early twentieth-century eugenic assumptions became embedded in educational practices—and then highlights scholars of postsecondary science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education working to address mechanisms of exclusion in this field.

“From conversations with many attendees, Noah and Katie’s conversations sparked deep reflection about our goals in chemistry education, the legacy of the educational structures we perpetuate, and how we can create more beneficial learning environments for everyone on our courses,” says Stu.

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