Education Professor Lands NSF Career Award
or the first time, a faculty member in the Neag School of Education has been chosen to receive the National Science Foundation's "Faculty Early Career Development" award.
During the next four years, Sadhana Puntambekar, an assistant professor of educational psychology, will receive more than $350,000 in research funding for the design of on-line materials for middle school science classes.
"This is not only confirmation that Sadhana Puntambekar is an outstanding scholar, it is verification from one of the premier funding institutions that her ideas and research have the potential to profoundly affect school classrooms around the world," says Scott Brown, chair of the educational psychology department.
Puntambekar's objective is threefold: to design hypertext materials to help students learn science as an integrated body of knowledge, determine how students learn from these materials, and train classroom teachers to use them.
The trend in schools is to use computer technology as a tool and the Web as a resource to enhance project-based and inquiry-based teaching strategies. But anyone who uses the Internet for research knows how frustrating and time consuming it can be.
"There is an overwhelming amount of information to sort through. Students looking up information often get lost in the number of links they find and have a difficult time determining what information is valid," says Puntambekar.
Instead of using traditional linear methods of presentation, as found in a book, Puntambekar is using a nonlinear approach that will show the interrelationships between the sciences. Students would be able to "click" to related and relevant information and at the same time be encouraged to follow their own investigative paths.
Puntambekar is confident that hypertext materials can be a valuable resource, if devised and used properly.
"In middle and junior high schools, science is taught in compartments," she says. "For example, in understanding planets, physics shades into chemistry, astronomy and geology. My project will help students to understand these relationships."
This summer, Puntambekar will work with the teachers who will use the materials in their classrooms.
"It has to be a collaborative effort to be successful," she says. "They know what their classroom needs are, and that's something we researchers have to learn more about; but teachers need to learn how to integrate the technology into their curricula. So it becomes a rich give-and-take experience."
Next spring the new teaching materials are expected to be ready for a workout in the classroom. So far, schools in East Hartford, Glastonbury, Mansfield and Tolland have agreed to participate.
In the meantime, Puntambekar is seeking four new graduate students, to be funded by this project for four years.
Brown says, "Given the significance of this project, we'll be able to recruit top grads from all over the country - students who might have gone to Georgia Tech or Stanford University will take a serious look at what we, at UConn have to offer."
The NSF is funding fewer than 10 education research projects this year. The CAREER grant program supports "exceptionally promising college and university junior faculty who are committed to the integration of research and education."
With this award, Puntambekar becomes eligible for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.