Brian Reiser Appointed Orrington Lunt Professor

Brian Reiser Appointed Orrington Lunt Professor

Brian Reiser HeadshotBrian Reiser was a founding member of SESP's learning sciences program, the world's first of its kind.

Northwestern University’s Brian Reiser, whose life work has helped make science education more relevant and meaningful for children, has been appointed the Orrington Lunt Professor of Education and Social Policy.

The title recognizes Orrington Lunt (1815-1897) a founder, trustee, and benefactor of Northwestern who is credited for selecting the site of the Evanston campus.

Over the last two decades, Reiser has helped fundamentally reconceptualize science instruction so that activities in science classrooms feel more authentic. “At the same time, he has worked on the many problems associated with making this vision a reality in U.S. classrooms – problems that range from individual schools to the whole nation,” said Bruce Sherin, professor of learning sciences at Northwestern.

Reiser was a member of the committee authoring the Framework for K-12 Science Education that guided the design of Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and similar standards now used in 44 states. More than 71 percent of U.S. schoolchildren are learning science in states that have adopted new science standards based on a framework, including the Next Generation Science Standards.

The new guidelines stress that in today’s world, it's no longer good enough to ask students to memorize facts and explanations. “Instead, teachers need to support students as they actively engage in hands-on investigations and discussions to work together and figure out the world around them,” Reiser said.

But the new vision requires updated classroom materials and professional learning opportunities for teachers. To help districts, teachers and students adapt, Reiser created the  Next Generation Science Storylines Project which collaborates with state initiatives to design curriculum materials for K-12 teachers and support them as they work with these innovations in their science classrooms.

Science storylines start with real-world problems that spark students' questions to drive their learning in the unit. This approach highlights the key instructional shift in the Next Generation Science Standards that are typically missing from traditional science instruction: connecting the science they are learning to their own lives.

“A storyline provides a coherent path toward building science ideas, piece by piece, anchored in students’ own questions,” Reiser said. “Rather than learning about the science work others have done, students become part of figuring how the natural world works.”

Reiser’s group collaborates with the OpenSciEd Developer Consortium, along with 10 state education agencies. The consortium has created and tested a series of research-based NGSS-designed storyline instructional materials for middle school, now freely downloadable and used by teachers across the country. The project is currently working on high school science materials for chemistry, biology, physics and earth and space science, to be released publicly in 2023 and 2024.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Reiser and his team worked with Evanston/Skokie School District 65 educators to adapt units from the OpenSciEd science curriculum for remote learning for middle school students. They designed and helped assemble low-cost science kits that the district gave to each family in the district, so students could work with their teachers to complete science activities at home.

In 2021, Reiser was elected to the National Academy of Education and named a 2021 American Educational Research Association Fellow for distinguished and sustained work in science education. He is a fellow of the International Society of the Learning Sciences.

Reiser was a founding member and director of Northwestern’s learning sciences doctoral program, the world’s first. Reiser’s early work involved research on how intelligent tutoring systems can be designed to support student learning of programming, and designing scaffolded learning environments for biology. In the last two decades, Reiser’s team has developed technology-supported curriculum materials and professional learning used by school districts across the country.

Reiser studied cognitive psychology as an undergraduate and earned his doctorate in cognitive science from Yale University. He began his faculty career as a psychology professor at Princeton University.

“The new standards really help us shift from learning about science to using science to figure out how stuff happens in the world,” said Reiser, who served on the National Research Council’s Board on Science Education from 2011 to 2018.

“As a student, I was always interested in figuring out problems that affect people in the real world. But the vision of science I experienced throughout my K-12 education never presented science in that way. My goal is to help today’s students see science as a kind of sensemaking everybody can do to figure out questions and solve problems they care about.”

By Julie Deardorff
Last Modified: 10/10/22