The History of Science Education at UNC


This playground was located just south of Kepner Hall. Playgrounds were an innovation in education in the early 20th century. One of the Normal School's first master's theses concerned the national playground movement.


 1890 - Colorado State Normal School opened in Greeley, Colorado. Greeley, a prosperous farm community, succeeded in lobbying for the new State Normal School amongst intense efforts from many other towns and cities in the state ending their 20 year quest for a college. The original program of study was a two year program designed for future elementary teachers plus summer classes for teachers already in the schools. The school started with observations and practicum. Unfortunately the students were not well prepared and Greeley schools did not allow student teachers again until 1948. Entrance requirements included completion of grades 1-8. If a student had completed high school, they could enter the Normal school in the senior year which means only one year at the college level was necessary to earn a lifelong teaching license. Although, it’s said that the typical student never intended to make teaching a permanent career.

 1891 – Zachariah Xenophon Snyder appointed President. A trained scientist and mathematician gave up his hardware business to make ¼ the money to return to his passion - education. Snyder regularly taught science and math classes. During his 24 year tenure he elevated the curriculum beyond the typical Normal school courses of Reading, writing, arithmetic, orthography, English, grammar, and geography to include physics, chemistry, botany, zoology, geology, physiology, physical geography, public school science, algebra and geometry. Snyder made the state normal school among the most famous in the nation.

 1891 – Training School with model students (laboratory school) housed on campus for practice teaching.

 1897 – Curriculum was elevated and high school graduates had to enter into the junior year requiring two years of Normal school before they could earn their lifelong teaching license. Many applicants were experienced elementary teachers who’d earned their temporary certificate from school superintendents. These experienced teachers were required to take a full year of classes before they could be admitted to the Junior year. This made Colorado State Normal School the first of its kind to require a high school degree for admission.

 1907 – The first baccalaureate degree program was offered. Since the opening of the school in 1890 the large majority of high school licenses were granted at the University of Colorado. Strong “turf fights” have existed since the beginning. As the Normal school grew and expanded CU worked to change legislation favoring graduates of liberal arts colleges. The Normal school has always been a majority female students. The CU regents expressed the hope that the state would never have to “entrust the training of its future citizens to little girls” from the normal school. 

 1911 – Name change “Colorado State Teachers College”

 1912 – first major cuts due to financial problems in the state.

 1913 – One of the first normal schools in the country to transition into a four-year collegiate institution. The first graduate program was offered.

War, disorder, extreme growth

 1924-1948 Under Frasier’s lead the College had a single purpose “preparation of the best teaching that the talents of the faculty could produce” Frasier encouraged and made time for teaching and scholarship leaving the university at its peak.

 1928 – Gilcrest and Big Bend schools partner for student teaching.

 1929 – First PhD degrees in Education and Educational Psychology

 1933 - Division of Science created by consolidating Department of Biology and Chemistry.

 1935 - Name change “Colorado State College of Education” may have been due to the increasing emphasis on athletics. Teacher’s colleges had no athletic status in California.

 1948-1964 William R. Ross served as president, a native of Colorado with a long history of teaching and administration in public education, and he knew what kinds of teachers were needed. Ross had a very practical approach, was well loved by faculty and built much of the university infrastructure. Ross created the Special Education and Nursing programs and arranged the purchase of the West campus property. However he did not provide encouragement for scholarship. During his tenure, Colorado State College of Education’s reputation for scholarship dwindled, which will be difficult to reclaim.

 1950 – Colorado State College of Education ranked second in number of MA degrees conferred among institutions West of the Mississippi. 64% of the enrollment was graduate students.

 1957 – Name change Colorado State College

 At this time all science and mathematics faculty were members of the division of science even though they had expertise in a variety of academic science disciplines. A majority of faculty members had some experience in the public schools but not all faculty members had doctorates. The Division of Science was responsible for teaching all science courses, including science courses for future elementary teachers as well as science courses for science majors planning on becoming secondary science teachers. There were just two choices for students wishing to major in science, Life Science or Physical Science. For those few students who planned on continuing graduate school in science they could concentrate their studies in a particular field. Most science majors however were still planning on becoming school teachers and so the broad discipline science majors were a benefit. There was one chairman for the Division of Science and he was responsible for all the science programs and disciplines.

 1959 – Chemistry major created

 1962 – Physics major created

 1964 – 1971 Darrell Holmes, the colleges most loved president, was the first president to not have a public school background. He had a curriculum development background and was the former executive dean at San Diego State College. Darrell Holmes served as president during tumultuous times on college campuses around the nation. Holmes oversaw the tremendous growth in student population of the late 1960s, along with an incredible building program that more than doubled the size of the school. The academic program was broadened to serve the many students seeking a liberal arts education. Holmes successfully led the move to rename the College to the University of Northern Colorado.

 1967 – Department of Science Education created as well as academic departments of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science and Mathematics. The science education department taught the science content and methods classes for future elementary teachers as well as the methods classes for future secondary teachers. However, its largest responsibility was in providing graduate classes. Graduates of the science education department began to fill positions across the country which increased the universities reputation. Les Trowbridge, the longtime chair of the science education department, served as president of the National Science Teachers Association, which also added to the school's reputation. Two other faculty or alumni of UNC's science education program also served as NSTA president. 

 1968 – Earth Sciences major created

 1970 – name change University of Northern Colorado Over the past 10 years, as enrollment doubled from baby boomers entering college, UNC’s focus became multi-purpose and its mission was unclear. For the first time, it wasn’t predominantly an institution for preparing teachers.

 1979 - UNC nationally recognized for their foresight in having methods courses taught in science departments because faculty recognized the importance of both subject matter and methodology. UNC had anticipated the need two decades earlier. Secondary student teaching is also supervised by content departments.

 1983 – Facing declining enrollments and plagued with controversy over rigor of programs, many departments were eliminated including the Department of Science Education. Some of the science education professors were terminated including Les Trowbridge, UNC’s 1979 Distinguished Scholar Recipient, and a few were transferred to the academic science departments such as Jay Hackett who moved to the Earth Sciences Department. Trowbridge was affiliated with the Earth Science Department starting in ’87 until his retirement in 1991.

 1987 – MAST (Math And Science Teaching) Center created by UNC scientists recognized the need to continue many of the functions of the Science Education Department. Henry Heikkinen, award winning chemistry educator, hired as MAST Director and served in the role for 14 years. Under Heikkinen’ s leadership, MAST and UNC developed strong collaborative projects with members of UNC’s College of Education & College of Arts and Sciences, K-12 schools, and state and national agencies .MAST has maintained a strong relationship with the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences (EBS) winning many national and state grant competitions with joint collaborators in the sciences and EBS (see below for more detail). MAST also coordinated the interdisciplinary elementary and secondary science courses and programs with the science departments and science education faculty members in an ad hoc fashion.

 1991-1996 MAST Steering Committee functioned in an ad hoc fashion to coordinate the science education programs.

 1992 - 1998 April Gardener (UNC, Biology) and Jay Hackett (UNC-Earth Science) served as Co-Directors of the MAST Center. 

 1996 – 2010 SMECC (Science and Mathematics Education Coordinating Committee)served as an unofficial, ad hoc group to manage science education programs in the College of Arts and Sciences (terminated in 2005) and the College of Natural and Health Sciences (2005-present).

 2000 – SCI 465 Principles of Scientific Inquiry: Finding Order in Chaos, developed as part of new ISET program. Course focuses on Scientific practice rather on simply acquiring content and has since been nationally recognized as an important part of the elementary curriculum.

 2008 – 2013 Lori Reinsvold chaired SMECC/SCED committee and served as coordinator of the GIDP: Natural Sciences MA.

 2009 – 2012 Ann Bentz, Special Assistant to the Dean, appointed to coordinate interdisciplinary science courses for elementary and secondary teacher candidates through the SMECC group. This committee also oversaw the Graduate Interdisciplinary Degree Program (GIDP): Natural Sciences K-12 Teaching MA.

 2010 - 2014 SCED (SCience EDucation) Committee officially added as a NHS College committee. Responsible for oversight of the GIDPMA in Natural Sciences and any interdisciplinary courses for elementary or secondary teacher candidates. Membership included a member of the Dean’s office, director of MAST, heads of each academic science department or school, one teacher education faculty member from each department or school and one elementary science education faculty member.

 2013 – GIDP MA in Natural Sciences K-12 Teaching renamed GIDP: Science Education MA to reflect its purpose to allow teachers to deepen their content and pedagogical knowledge for teaching science.

 2014 – Director of Science Education Programs appointed – Wendy Adams, Associate Professor Physics. Half time Administrative Assistant hired – Kimberly Metcalf. Science Education Programs assumed the role of coordinating all science teaching courses for five programs (Early Childhood, Elementary, Secondary, Elementary Postbac and Secondary Postbac), the GIDP: Science Education MA, collaborates with MAST and represents the college of Natural and Health Sciences in conversations with the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences regarding teacher preparation programs. SCED committee purpose and membership adjusted to reflect its new advisory capacity.

 2015 - Mines - UNC STEM Teacher Preparation Program enrolled the first cohort of students pursuing secondary science licensure while earning their Mines degree

 2016 - Walking Mountains Science Center (WMSC) selected their first cohort of four fellows who will deliver environmental education at WMSC while earning their MA in Science Education from UNC.