UMass Amherst to Host National Conference on How People Learn March 22

AMHERST, Mass. - The science of how learning takes place, and the implications of this new science in the classroom, will be the focus of "How People Learn: Transforming the Science Classroom," a national conference to be hosted by the University of Massachusetts on Monday, March 22. The afternoon session is free and open to the public and will include discussions of emerging trends in this area of science. The conference is sponsored by the University’s College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the School of Education, and the Office of the Provost.

"UMass has a group of faculty members who are truly at the forefront of the science of learning, that is, how cognitive processes work as human beings attain new knowledge," said Linda Slakey, dean of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. "Gaining insights into how people learn has enabled us to reach more students more effectively, relying on both innovative teaching methods and cutting-edge computer technologies."

The conference, which is geared not just for teachers and researchers, but for anyone involved in teaching, will also link the findings of a new report released by the National Research Council (NRC) to innovations in education reform at the University. Jose Mestre, a University physicist and a leader in the science of learning, was part of the panel that released that report, titled "How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School." The report synthesized 25 years of research into the science of learning.

"The University is proud to welcome national leaders in the science of learning to the Amherst campus, to exchange ideas with our own well-recognized researchers," said Bailey Jackson, dean of the School of Education. "This new field challenges us, and educators everywhere, to look beyond familiar, traditional methods of instruction, and to formulate ways of reaching students that are fully engaging, very exciting, and ultimately more effective."

During the morning, conference attendees will visit innovative classrooms, where they will participate as students. Selected courses will illustrate new methods of instruction and state-of-the-art instructional technologies that are being used to enhance learning at UMass. These facilities include an engineering classroom featuring a multimedia system and interactive computers; lecture halls with a computer polling system that gives teachers instant feedback from students; and OWL, the Web-based homework software developed by UMass computer scientists. A new teaching method that encourages teachers and students to think like scientists will also be showcased.

The afternoon session will include panels and speakers discussing emerging trends in the science of learning. Participants will also summarize the 25 years of research findings discussed in the NRC report. There will be a presentation by John Bransford of Vanderbilt University, who co-chaired the committee which authored the report. The day’s events will end with a talk by Luther Williams, assistant director of the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) division of Educational System Reform. Initiatives to be discussed during the afternoon will include:

* STEMTEC: Improving science and mathematics education from kindergarten through the college level is the goal of the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Teacher Education Collaborative, a multi-year project based at UMass and funded by the NSF. The project is a collaboration between the University and seven other area colleges, as well as several neighboring school districts.

* CTEP: Learning to think like a scientist or mathematician is a powerful technique that can be used to immerse teachers and students in a new subject, according to researchers at the UMass School of Education. Participants will learn how the CTEP (Constructivist Teacher Education Project) method of "seeing" science and math through the eyes of a child or teacher-to-be can positively influence classroom results.

* Classtalk: Can a teacher actively engage hundreds of students sitting in a large lecture hall and receive instant feedback to tailor instruction to the students’ needs? Yes, say instructors in physics and biology, who will share their experiences using Classtalk, a proprietary classroom instruction system that transforms a large lecture hall into the interactive experience of a small classroom.

* Wired Learning: How does a technology-rich environment influence learning? UMass chemistry and biochemistry majors routinely use computer simulations to guide them through their lab work. Class time is spent in understanding concepts instead of simply being presented with conclusions. Using facilities such as the Chemical Engineering Alumni Classroom, instructors interact more with students, who report greater motivation to learn and growing confidence in their abilities.

NOTE: More information is available at Reporters are invited to attend the event, and press kits will be available upon request. Attendance at the morning sessions is limited. To reserve a space, contact Nancy Kahn of the Provost’s Office at 413/545-2554.