Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy

FALL 2015

SESP Adds New Undergraduate Learning Sciences Major

SESP Adds New Undergraduate Learning Sciences Major

In recognition of the increasing importance of learning across the life span, the School of Education and Social Policy is adding a new undergraduate major in learning sciences. The new undergraduate program draws on the strength of the School’s existing graduate program in the learning sciences, which has a 26-year history and was the first undergraduate learning sciences program in the nation.

Focusing on the three primary themes of cognition and action, cultural contexts, and designing for learning, the new major will prepare students to be leaders in the scientific understanding and practice of designing effective environments for learning. The program will be of special interest to students who want to pursue careers in education technology, instructional design, education in museums and informal learning environments, education research, curriculum design, workplace learning and related fields.

“Out-of-school learning will become increasingly important in the coming decades as workers can now expect to pursue more than one career and change jobs many times over their lifetimes,” says Dean Penelope Peterson. “Accordingly, we need to prepare college graduates who can serve as leaders in helping to design innovative environments that effectively nurture and support learning both in school and in many different informal contexts, including after-school programs, museums, community centers, online environments and workplaces."

Students in the new major, which will begin in fall 2016 and was developed by a faculty committee chaired by professor Reed Stevens, may specialize in learning in schools, out-of-school learning or design of learning environments. Depending on the specialization, the curriculum will include courses on topics such as the contemporary landscape of education, cognition in contexts and innovative learning environment.

MetaMedia Center Features FUSE for Teen Learning

MetaMedia Center Features FUSE for Teen Learning
Photo by Charles Osgood
Northwestern president Morton Schapiro visits the MetaMedia center at McGaw YMCA.

The innovative new MetaMedia teen space in Evanston features FUSE, an interest-driven model for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) learning developed by SESP professors Kemi Jona and Reed Stevens. A University-community partnership created the MetaMedia youth space that fosters creative opportunities and connected learning for middle schoolers at McGaw YMCA.

FUSE creates opportunities for young learners to experience STEAM in an accessible, enjoyable way and to discover new interests in these fields. Participants choose from more than two dozen engaging challenges in 3D design and printing, robotics, electronics and more.

Housed in schools, libraries and youth-serving organizations throughout the Chicago area, the FUSE program over the past year has served approximately 4,000 youth. This fall, with studios opening in California and Ohio, FUSE will reach nearly 6,000 youth in 50 locations.

SESP Ranks Number Seven

SESP Ranks Number Seven

Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy ranks number seven in the nation, according to the new 2016 ranking of graduate schools of education by U.S. News & World Report. SESP consistently ranks among the top graduate schools nationwide.

PBS Offers Mike Horn’s Evolution Games as Online Lab

PBS Offers Mike Horn’s Evolution Games as Online Lab

Assistant professor Michael Horn’s museum games on evolution have become a new online PBS NOVA unit for high school students called “Evolution Lab.” NOVA’s Evolution Lab features games to introduce teens to processes of evolution.

Horn’s games help teens understand phylogenetics—the study of the evolutionary relationships between species. Players find similarities in the traits and DNA of species and interact with a virtual tree of life to understand how evolution has led to the diversity of species on Earth. While Horn originally developed the games as museum exhibits, NOVA’s web version can be run on computers and mobile devices.

The Surprising Science of Happiness
Photo by Steve Drey

The Surprising Science of Happiness

“Research shows that some things actually get better as we age,” says assistant professor Claudia Haase, who directs Northwestern’s Life-Span Development Lab. She finds that levels of trust increase as people get older and, moreover, people who trust more experience increases in happiness.

Haase and Michael Poulin from the University at Buffalo analyzed data from two large-scale studies conducted in the U.S. and more than 80 other countries. “People really seem to be ‘growing to trust’ as they travel through their adult years,” says Haase. “As we age, we may be more likely to see the best in other people and forgive the little letdowns that got us so wary when we were younger.”

Other factors shape well-being as well. Another new study by Haase shows that happiness may even stem from our DNA. She and her colleagues found that adults with a particular genetic variant smile and laugh more when looking at funny comics or films. Her previous studies have shown that people with this variant also get more upset seeing others in need. “People with this genetic variant may be more sensitive to both the emotional highs and lows in life,” says Haase.

Northwestern Academy Starts Second Year

Northwestern Academy Starts Second Year

With a new cohort of 67 students, Northwestern Academy for Chicago Public Schools is beginning a second successful year. The goal of this SESP program is to prepare Chicago high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds for selective colleges and universities.

Summer activities focused on exploring art, science, writing, literature, philosophy and critical reasoning. Using an individualized approach, the Academy provides academic enrichment, college counseling and leadership development.

Second-year Academy students are delving into college research, which includes campus visits to different kinds of schools across the nation. This concrete “college knowledge” is important to make college real for the students, who are also completing ACT test preparation before junior year, says Academy director Cassandra Geiger.

Eighty-four percent of the new students are first-generation collegebound students, and 97 percent come from low-income households. Geiger says, “All of the students are academically high-achieving and motivated to pursue rigorous course work.”

‘Forgotten Half ’ at Community College
Photo by Jerry Dallege

‘Forgotten Half ’ at Community College

New research by professor James Rosenbaum spotlights a major concern for community colleges. The good news is that 90 percent of recent high school graduates attend college in the eight years after high school. However, nearly half of community college students fail to complete any credential—and do no better in the job market than young people with only a high school diploma.

Rosenbaum’s report, called “The New Forgotten Half and Research Directions to Support Them,” explains obstacles that cause students to drop out of community college and how future research can help young people to complete their education. “Better counseling and guidance would benefit community college students, and research can guide the training of counselors on how to support disadvantaged and struggling students,” says Rosenbaum.