Michael Novak

Michael Novak

Adjunct Faculty, Learning Sciences and MSEd Programs
Researcher , Center For Connected Learning

Annenberg Hall
Room 234
2120 Campus Drive
Evanston, IL 60208-0001
Park View School
6200 Lake St.
Morton Grove, IL 60030
Phone: (847) 965-6200, x 166
I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC), where I received a bachelor's of science and master's of science in mechanical engineering. I stayed in the UIUC community for 15 years, where I continued my education while gaining a variety of unique experiences as a student, educator, scientist and engineer from 1988 until 2003

I joined the Center for Connected Learning (CCL) as a consultant in the spring of 2004. In this role I developed instructional materials for Connected Chemistry through the Modeling Across the Curriculum project, which was a five-year research project to study the impact of computer modeling tools on science learning. Connected Chemistry addressed high school chemistry topics related to the behavior of gases and chemical reactions while also developing students' understanding of systems, models, equilibrium and change, and the nature of science. Currently I am developing instructional materials for BEAGLE (Biological Experiments in Adaptation, Genetics, Learning and Evolution), which is a suite of NetLogo models and supporting materials designed to facilitate inquiry, teaching and learning of concepts and phenomena related to evolution, adaptation, and natural and artificial selection.  And I am designing materials for the ModelSim project in the form of two week long units on the particle nature of matter, population dynamics, and evolution that are being piloted in local high school science classroom.

During the school year I work part-time for CCL, since I also work full-time as an eighth-grade mathematics and science teacher at Park View School.

Engineering to Education
Before entering education, I was an engineer. As an engineer I was happy with how the science, mathematics and the art of design that in "doing engineering" fit what I liked doing. From 1990-91, I worked at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory as a structural designer as a co-operative exchange student where I developed structural designs for electrostatics tests of cavities and the assembly of the initial assembly stages of the D0 particle detector array. In the early 1990s I worked as a private engineering consultant mostly for Caterpillar, Inc. I researched autonomous vehicle control methods for Wheel Loaders and helped develop hardware, software and graphics for the Caterpillar Virtual Prototyping System (1992-1995) (movie link). This system received national recognition in Discover, Newsweek, Fortune 500, CNN and variety of technical journals and trade publications. I developed scientific visualization research focused on fluid dynamics visualization in next generation hydro-electric fuel injectors (these HEUI fuel injectors are now included as standard equipment on Caterpillar engines), and he did industrial design work on ergonomics for the interior of a cab for a line of next generation backhoes (now included in the 420D/430D line of CAT backhoes).

But even though engineering seem to fit what I liked to do, and even though these projects were challenging and exciting, I was also finding that other work related to teaching, education and outreach was giving me even richer meaning and personal connection in my life. Various teaching assignments at the university in mechanical engineering and plant biology led me to learn more about teaching.

A series of experiences with Charles M. Weller and Don DeCoste in C&I 101 and Ed Dole in a introductory course for science teachers PlantBio100 (now Integrative Biology 100/101), helped me adopt a teaching and learning philosophy grounded in constructivism.  From their inspired example, I was motivated to take additional teaching courses (thinking at that time that I might teach college).   These courses led to some very positive pre-service teaching experiences that I had in the Champaign middle schools.  At the same time, I kept hearing incredible sucess stories from my wife's efforts to detrack, differentiate, and try to build a constructivist approach into her 6th grade mathematics classroom at her school, that I was soon hooked on idea of becoming a middle school mathematics and science teacher just like her. 

I received my certification in 1995 and became a middle school teacher that year, at the Urbana Middle school, where I had student taught with my cooperating teachers: Jan Hari and Kevin Erlinger. I worked at the Urbana and Champaign middle schools for five years, first as a regular classroom teacher in Urbana, and then two years later as the gifted teacher for all middle school science and mathematics students in Champaign. . While teaching, I evaluated some science education outreach efforts at UIUC, served as a regional and state judge for the Science Olympiad, and trained in-service teacher educators in computer-based teaching and learning tools.

Education to Education Reform
As I taught, I found myself doing lots of instructional design work for my classes.  And as I did this, I realized that while some of the design principles that applied to engineering also applied to instructional materials design, designing effective instructional materials also drew on design principles from the learning science.   I piloted some innovative instructional materials (such as the Connected Mathematics Project), tried to design things similar to this for science, and came to the realization of the critical impact that well designed materials have a major impact on student learning.  This led me to look for opportunities to do work that involved instructional materials design, professional development, and education reform  

In 2000, I joined the Shodor Education Foundation and the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at UIUC as a mathematics and science education specialist. I worked on various projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation to prepare tomorrow’s teachers to use technology. And I developed some initiatives related to instructional materials design for science literacy with Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science with Ted Willard and Dr. Francis Molina. This work fueled my growing passion for mathematics and science education reform and moved me to become very focused on the critical role of well articulated learning goals in the design and implementation of instructional materials.

From 2000 to 2003 I became more heavily involved in training educators and researchers in the use of computer based teaching and learning tools. Some of the tools included TI graphing calculators, digital probes, NetLogo (and StarLogo), Web-based Science Inquiry Environment, World Watcher, Project Interactivate, Stella, RiverWeb, Mathematica, Chemviz and Biology Student Workbench. I co-conducted seminars and workshops for in-service teachers and faculty in computational science, modeling and visualization with EdGrid, the National Computational Science Leadership Program, the SuperComputing 2002 (SC2002) Education Program, the SuperComputing 2003 (SC2003) Education Program, Revitalize, the National Computational Science Institute, and CSynergy. In the summer of 2003, I was also the lead instructor for the UIUC College of Engineering weeklong G.A.M.E.S. computer science camp for 8th-9th grade girls, which used NetLogo as a platform for the students to create their own computer games.

At this time, my wife and I looked to move back to the area we grew up (northern suburbs of Chicago), in order to bring our two kids closer to their grandparents.     This led me to take a teaching position at Park  View School District 70 in Morton Grove, Illinois in 2003, were I still teach 8th grade mathematics and science today.

With the support of our administration and staff, our school has adopted very progressive educational materials in the middle grades for mathematics and science.  My schools' science teachers implemented and piloted many reform based science units, including ones from both IQWST (Investigating Our World Through Science and Technology) and PBIS in the development phases for both of those programs.    Having now adopted and taught IQWST in grades 6-8 at my school for the past 4-5 years, my fellow middle school science teachers and I are very excited to help other teachers and schools in their adoption or evaluation of IQWST, by providing training workshops for teachers new to the curriculum.

While the majority of my work with Northwestern is designing instructional materials with Uri Wilensky through the Center for Connected Learning, I also co-teach a project-based science education course (LS 435) with Brian Reiser on the science education research and practice related to inquiry-based learning, conceptual change, and curriculum and activity design.  And, in the past few years I have been working with AAAS Project 2061 evaluating and testing science assessment items. 

2013 - ISTA/ExxonMobil Outstanding Illinois Teacher of Science

2010 - National Board Certification - Teaching / Mathematics

1992 - Thiokol Award for Excellence in Engineering Design for Senior Design Project


Year Degree Institution
1994 MS, Mechanical Engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
1992 BS, Mechanical Engineering University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Research Interests
Instructional materials design, professional development of teachers, scientific modeling, evolutionary mechanisms, visualization, computational thinking and agent-based modeling.

Lab Affiliations
Center for Connected Learning


LRN_SCI 435 New Approaches to Science Teaching This course will review current ideas about reforms in science education, drawing on recent research on science learning and instructional innovation, and on reform documents such as national standards. We will examine approaches that attempt to teach science throughout K-12 as a knowledge-building practice, i.e., by engaging in scientific investigations and participating in scientific practices such as argumentation, explanation, and working with scientific models. The course will provide experience in understanding student thinking, articulating learning goals, and analyzing and adapting curriculum materials in light of current research-based view of science learning. Fulfills an MSED requirement.
MS_ED 451 Teaching K-12 Science with the Next Generation Science Standards
MS_ED 458 Methods & Techniques of Teaching: Science The course introduces teaching and learning strategies that aid course participants in becoming effective educators in the secondary school setting. Emphasizing current research, the course is a comprehensive study of teaching methods in the sciences: biology, chemistry, and physics. Lesson and unit planning and assessment of student learning are elements of the seminar.
TEACH_ED 358 Methods & Techniques: Science Analysis of literature, research, and teaching methodologies related to the content area. Focuses on learning experiences, methods, and educational techniques appropriate for middle and high school students. Concurrent registration in 378 or 379 required.


Employment History
2004 - Current Center for Connected Learning
Instructional Materials Developer
2003 - Current National Board Certified 8th grade mathematics & science teacher, Park View School
6200 Lake St.
Morton Grove IL 60053
(847) 965. 6200
8th grade mathematics and science teacher
2000 2003 National Center for Supercomputing Applications
Project lead on Educational Access Design Systems (EADS) and Curriculum Workbench Project.
2000 2003 Shodor Education Foundation
Workshop provider for National Computational Science Leadership Institute.
1998 2000 Champaign School District
Gifted Mathematics and Science Specialist for grades 6-8.
1998 1998 EDS
private consultant: developed ergonomics in cab for 426F backhoe, contracted for Caterpillar Inc.
1996 1998 Urbana School District
6th grade mathematics and science teacher,
1996 1996 University of Illinois at Urbaran-Champaign
Teaching assistnant in mechanical engineering courses and plant biology courses. Instructional materials developer in biology courses.
1992 1996 Caterpillar Inc.
Private consultant: scientific visualizations, neural network and vehicle controls research. Co-developed virtual prototyping system.
1990 1991 Fermi National Accelerator Lab
Co-operative exchange student in mechanical engineering. Designed electrostatic bead test device and structural support for assembly of DO particle detector.

Last Updated: 2013-09-02 13:36:19