Faculty, Students Tout iCons Approach to Science Education

The Integrated Concentration in Science Program (iCons) and its new spin on science education are getting some attention following workshops presented by program staff and students in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and California in recent months.

Chemistry professor and iCons director Scott Auerbach led an iCons case study workshop at Worcester State University on Dec. 12.

Auerbach described how the four-year program for undergraduates majoring in science, engineering and public health trains students to be the next generation of science leaders by confronting real issues as part of interdisciplinary teams. During the workshop, 16 WSU faculty members replicated the approach, working in teams to explore issues like antibiotic-resistant bacteria and sea-level rise through the unique methodology used in the iCons Program.

Designed to foster student-directed inquiry and learning, the iCons case-study methodology involves five stages:

  • Inception: Introduction to the issue
  • Engagement: Discussion of the issue and identification of gaps in knowledge
  • Research: Attempt to answer unknowns about the issue through scientific method
  • Create: Advance understanding about the issue based on research
  • Reflect: Contemplate skills gained during the process, and consider how these skills can be applied to help solve other issues

The WSU workshop was among a number of road trips Auerbach has taken in an effort to share the iCons model with learning institutions of various shapes and sizes.

In November, Auerbach presented a case study workshop at the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) conference held in San Diego on “Transforming STEM Education: Inquiry, Innovation, Inclusion, and Evidence.”  During the same month, iCons students Erin Amato, LeAnn Monteverde and Debbie Tschong, with guidance from Auerbach, led a workshop in for participants in Girls Inc., a program that empowers girls in Holyoke to engage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Auerbach and physics senior lecturer Justin Fermann led a workshop in October at the AAC&U Network for Academic Renewal conference on “Global Learning in College: Asking Big Questions, Engaging Urgent Challenges” held in Providence.

After leading a workshop at the Williston-Northampton School last year, Auerbach helped establish a scaled-down version of the iCons program at the private high school in Easthampton, returning this fall for a follow workshop.

“While iCons is not a one-size-fits-all program, other institutions are embracing the message that integrated student-driven learning provides a richer academic experience with outcomes that translate to the real world,” said Auerbach.