Bob Beichner likes to tell people that 75 percent of his time is spent as director of NC State University’s STEM Education Initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) while the other 75 percent of his time he is Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor of Physics. Luckily, those two roles actually do overlap as he works to improve STEM education “from K to Gray” in North Carolina and across the nation. One of his major efforts is the SCALE-UP project (Student-Centered Active Learning Environment for Undergraduate Programs), which has been adopted by more than 100 universities across the country and is now moving into high schools as well.
SCALE-UP classrooms look like restaurants, with round tables and an instructor moving about the room. Students are focused on interesting tasks – Beichner calls them “tangibles,” “ponderables” and “visibles” – while the teacher listens in, asks questions, and even starts debates between students. The approach works for many different content areas, with failure rates dropping to a fraction of that seen before the approach was implemented. All this happens while learning standards are raised and students gain additional 21st century skills like communication, problem solving and teamwork.
Beichner is a first-generation college graduate and recognizes the benefits of hands-on and minds-on instruction for students who are from groups not well represented in STEM fields. He has seen failure rates for some groups dropping to 1/5 their previous levels. In fact, demographic differences in student performance seem to disappear in SCALE-UP classrooms.
Working to improve teaching and learning at all levels and for many STEM fields, Beichner serves in multiple capacities, including membership on the JOBS (Joining Our Businesses and Schools) Commission and founding editor of Physical Review Special Topics-Physics Education Research, the leading journal for those studying ways to improve the learning of physics. He co-authored the No. 1 college physics textbook, used by more than 1/3 of all STEM college majors, and also consults with education researchers and reformers in biology, engineering, chemistry and statistics.
In addition to a Ph.D. in science education from SUNY Buffalo, Beichner holds an M.S. degree in physics from the University of Illinois and two B.S. degrees, in physics and mathematics, from Penn State University. He was the 2009 CASE North Carolina Professor of the Year as well as the 2010 Undergraduate Science Teacher of the Year from the Society of College Science Teachers.