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The History of Science Education at UNC

Early 20th century playground located just south of Kepner Hall.

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.


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 one through eight. 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 is said that the typical student never intended to make teaching a permanent career.


Zachariah Xenophon Snyder appointed President. A trained scientist and mathematician, Zachariah Zenophon Snyder, gave up his hardware business to make one-fourth 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. A training school with model students (laboratory school) was housed on campus for practice teaching.


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 had 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.


The first baccalaureate degree program was offered. Since the opening of the school in 1890, the majority of high school licenses were granted at the University of Colorado (CU). 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 student school. 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.


Name changed to “Colorado State Teachers College.”


First major cuts due to financial problems in the state.


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, and extreme growth.


President George Willard Frasier. Under Frasier’s lead, Colorado State Teachers 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 college at its peak. 


Gilcrest and Big Bend schools partner with the college for student teaching.


First PhD degrees in Education and Educational Psychology offered.


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


Name changed to “Colorado State College of Education,” and may have been due to the increasing emphasis on athletics. Teachers colleges had no athletic status in California.


William R. Ross, a native of Colorado, served as president.  Ross, with a long history of teaching and administration in public education, knew what kinds of teachers were needed. Ross had a very practical approach, was well loved by faculty, and built much of the college 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 would be difficult to reclaim.


Colorado State College of Education ranked second in number of Master of Arts (MA) degrees conferred among institutions west of the Mississippi. Sixty-four percent of the enrollment was graduate students.


Name changed to 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 major students, 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, who was responsible for all of the science programs and disciplines.


Chemistry major created.


Physics major created.


Darrell Holmes, the college's most loved president, was the first president to not have a public school background. Holmes, the former executive dean at San Diego State College, had a background in curriculum development.  He 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 in 1970.


Department of Science Education created as well as academic Departments of Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science and Mathematics. The Department of Science Education taught the science content and methods classes for future elementary teachers as well as methods classes for future secondary teachers; however, its largest responsibility was in providing graduate classes. Graduates of the Department of Science Education began to fill positions across the country, which increased the college's reputation. Les Trowbridge, the longtime chair of the Department of Science Education, served as president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), which also added to the college's reputation. Two other faculty or alumni of the Colorado State College's science education program also served as NSTA president.


 Earth Sciences major created.


Name changed to "University of Northern Colorado" (UNC). Over the past ten 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.


UNC nationally recognized for its 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.


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 others were transferred to the academic science departments, such as Jay Hackett who moved to the Department of Earth Sciences. Trowbridge was affiliated with the Department of Earth Sciences starting in 1987 until his retirement in 1991.


Math and Science Teaching Center (MAST), created by UNC scientists, recognized the need to continue many of the functions of the Department of Science Education. Henry Heikkinen, award winning chemistry educator, was hired as the director of MAST 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, UNC's College of Arts and Sciences, K-12 schools, and state and national agencies. MAST has maintained a strong relationship with UNC's 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.


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


April Gardener, UNC Department of Biology, and Jay Hackett, UNC Department of Earth Sciences, served as co-directors of MAST.


Science and Mathematics Education Coordinating Committee (SMECC) 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).


Principles of Scientific Inquiry: Finding Order in Chaos (SCI 465), developed as part of new Interdisciplinary Studies Elementary Teacher (ISET) program. Course focus placed on scientific practice rather than on simply acquiring content and has since been nationally recognized as an important part of the elementary curriculum.


Lori Reinsvold chaired the SMECC/Science Education (SCED) committee and served as coordinator of the Graduate Interdisciplinary Degree Program (GIDP): Natural Sciences Master of Arts.


Ann Bentz, Special Assistant to the Dean, appointed to coordinate interdisciplinary science courses for elementary and secondary teacher candidates through the SMECC committee. This committee also oversaw the GIDP M.A.: Natural Sciences K-12 Teaching Emphasis program.


SCED Committee officially added as a College of Natural and Health Sciences (NHS) committee. Responsible for oversight of the GIDP M.A.: Natural Sciences K-12 Teaching Emphasis program 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.


GIDP M.A.: Natural Sciences K-12 Teaching Emphasis program renamed "GIDP M.A.: Science Education Emphasis" to reflect its purpose to allow teachers to deepen their content and pedagogical knowledge for teaching science in the classroom.


Wendy Adams, UNC Physics Associate Professor, appointed as Director of Science Education programs. Half time Administrative Assistant hired as program support. 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 Emphasis M.A., collaborates with MAST and represents NHS in conversations with UNC's College of Education and Behavioral Sciences regarding teacher preparation programs. SCED committee purpose and membership adjusted to reflect its new advisory capacity.


Teacher Education Alliance, Mines-UNC Partnership (TEAM-UP) a teacher preparation program enrolled the first cohort of students pursuing secondary science licensure while earning their Mines degree.


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