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 4200

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, stability and change, and the nature of science.  I later developed 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 most recently I co-authored three instructional units for the  ModelSim project on the particle nature of matter, population biology, and evolution that are were piloted in local high schools.

During the school year I work part-time for CCL, since I also work full-time as science and social science teacher in grades 7 and 8 at 
Park View School

Engineering to Education
Before entering education, I was an engineer. As an engineer I found happiness in the fit between what I liked doing and the nature of discipline.  I loved the science and mathematics, but most of all I loved the art of design that could blend opportunities to also apply aesthetics, creativity, and innovation. From 1990-91, I worked at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory as a structural designer as a co-operative exchange student where I developed designs for electrostatics tests of cavities and the assembly scaffolding for 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, with Dr. Rich Ingram, Dr. Carl Larson and Dr. Kem Ahlers.  With them 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 tools focused on fluid dynamics visualization in next generation hydro-electric fuel injectors (these HEUI fuel injectors and I 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 helped me adopt a teaching and learning philosophy heavily 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 experiences led to some very positive pre-service teaching experiences that I had in the Champaign middle schools.  And at the same time, I kept hearing incredible success stories from my wife's efforts to de-track, differentiate, and try to build a constructivist approach into her 6th grade mathematics classroom at her school.  Through her example and the experiences I had working with middle school students in my education courses, I became hooked on 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 such worked, I realized that while some of the design principles that applied to engineering were ones I was also trying to instructional materials design.  There seemed a lot of overlap in how to think about designing effective instructional materials that could draw on design principles both from engineering and from the learning sciences.   I began piloting some innovative instructional materials (such as the Connected Mathematics Project), which gave me more ideas about the nature of instructional supports that needed to be designed into materials, if they were to support socially constructed learning.  I looked for materials that took a similar approach in how students might learn science, and with some frustrations at what was available I came to the realization of the critical impact that well designed materials have a major impact on student learning in science.  This led me to look for opportunities to do instructional materials design, professional development, and education reform in both math and science.

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 through 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.  I have continued collaborating with Project 2061, over the past six years, as part of their science assessment work and on other instructional materials design projects.

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 EnvironmentWorld WatcherProject InteractivateStellaRiverWebMathematicaChemviz 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 ProgramRevitalize, 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.  As part of that move, I was offered a teaching position at Park View School District 70 in Morton Grove, Illinois in 2003, were I taught science and mathematics for 10 years and where I teach 7th grade science and social science today.

With the support of our administration and staff, our school adopted very progressive educational materials to pilot in the middle grades for mathematics and science.  We implemented and piloted many reform based science units, including ones from both 
IQWST (Investigating Our World Through Science and Technology) and PBIS in the pilot phases for both of those programs.  

I continue designing instructional materials with 
Dr. Uri Wilensky through the Center for Connected Learning, and currently I teach the science methods course (fall quarter) and co-teach the science a project-based science education course (winter quarter) with Dr. Brian Reiser.

2014 - Golden Apple Fellow

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, professional learning communities, scientific modeling, history of science, 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 435 New Approaches to Science Teaching
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 Instructional Materials Developer, Center for Connected Learning
Instructional Materials Developer
2003 - Current National Board Certified Teacher , Park View School
6200 Lake St.
Morton Grove IL 60053
(847) 965. 6200
7th and 8th grade science and social science.
2000 2003 Mathematics & Science Education Specialist, National Center for Supercomputing Applications
Project lead on Educational Access Design Systems (EADS) and Curriculum Workbench Project.
2000 2003 Mathematics & Science Education Specialist, Shodor Education Foundation
Workshop provider for National Computational Science Leadership Institute.
1998 2000 Gifted Mathematics & Science Teacher, Champaign School District
Provided gifted education services in mathematics and science for students in grades 6-8 in all three Champaign middle schools.  Co-taught with all district mathematics and science teachers (50+)
1998 1998 Engineering Consultant, EDS
private consultant: developed ergonomics in cab for 426F backhoe, contracted for Caterpillar Inc.
1996 1998 Teacher, Urbana School District
6th grade mathematics and science teacher,
1996 1996 Lab coordinator and teaching assistant, University of Illinois at Urbaran-Champaign
Teaching assistant in mechanical engineering courses and plant biology courses.  Lab ccordinator and instructional materials developer in biology courses.
1992 1996 Engineering Consultant, Caterpillar Inc.
Private consultant: scientific visualizations, neural network and vehicle controls research. Co-developed virtual prototyping system.
1990 1991 UIUC cooperative exchange student, 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: 2014-06-10 22:53:59