P617: “It’s the content… no, it’s the pedagogy… no, it’s the people!”
We will discuss a theory of change in STEM educational reform that grows from our work over several decades, beginning with our leadership and authoring of ChemConnections modules in the NSF Systemic Change Initiative. We will trace chemistry education reform through phases that centered on content, pedagogy, and real-world context – and finally a mix of all these components. The theory of learning embodied by ChemConnections was that chemistry content should be data-rich and highly contextual so student learning is authentically connected to human questions. Pedagogy should be diverse yet highly active, engaging students in social learning that becomes a creative endeavor for both individual students and groups. We will argue that the ChemConnections modules were ambitious, ahead of their time, yet they created for the community a “vision of the possible” – attempting to integrate all of these changes simultaneously. Our concrete work in writing, teaching, and revising modules – and assessing student learning – supported us in a highly immersive and collaborative space that led quickly to permanent changes in our identities as teachers and scholars. Thus, the most striking lesson from our experience is that reform that lasts and transforms student learning in positive ways is focused primarily on changing people – true to our original vision for the ChemLinks project proposed to NSF in 1995.