June 10, 2021

Nicholls Professor Awarded Grant to Improve Science Education

Nicholls Professor Awarded Grant to Improve Science Education

Students in the Bayou Region will soon be able to learn first-hand about DNA and molecular structures thanks to a grant awarded to a Nicholls professor, according to a press release from the school.

The Louisiana Board of Regents, the state agency that coordinates all public higher learning institutions in the state, has recently awarded Nicholls assistant professor of teacher education, Dr. Aimee Hollander, $69,056 for a project that will serve to educate local students and faculty about molecular structures through the creation and displaying of models.

In addition to being a Nicholls assistant professor, Dr. Hollander serves as the program director for the Center for Teaching Excellence and science secondary education, making her the perfect liaison to bring this valuable resource to Nicholls’ campus for both university and high school students and faculty to benefit from.

Now that it’s funded, the project aims to house an impressive collection of magnetic 3D molecular models at Nicholls’ Ellender Memorial Library so that it can be used by local biology and chemistry faculty for their courses. The models will be available for checkout to faculty at Nicholls as well as local schools, potentially impacting thousands of students. In addition to the models, the grant is also set to fund professional development for faculty so that the models can be used as effectively as possible.

The professional development will ensure that teachers know the full functionality and set of uses for the models, with the development being aligned to the Louisiana Science Standards. The State Standards require Louisiana educators to incorporate “the developing and use of models” to teach matter structure, chemical reactions, and information processing, so not only will the models available at Nicholls be useful but the professional development will be as well.

When it comes to certain subject matter in Chemistry, many students struggle with imagining abstract subject matter like DNA, due to its minuscule size. The conceptualization can often be a roadblock or a deal-breaker for students majoring in the sciences or those simply taking science courses as part of a general education degree plan. This can often lead to students seeking out videos of digital molecular models on Youtube, which can be helpful for some, but students that identify as tactile learners will have a lot more success with the physical 3D magnetic molecular models soon to be found at Ellender Memorial Library.

Housing the 3D models in the University library follows the long-standing collegiate tradition of the library being the centerpiece of all facets of research, information gathering, and in more recent years: educational resources. The internet is widely known to be a source of information, but with Youtube offering resources as well as uncertified curricula on its platform, many science majors might be tempted to take the “easy way out” and learn about Chemistry concepts from a content creator instead of their professor, which can have systemic problems and detrimental consequences down the line.

Ellender Memorial Library offers a maker space that will be able to be used in conjunction with the models to advance learning and modeling, which might lead to future 3D modeling competitions being brought to the Bayou Region some years in the future. These events are a unique blend of hybrid education and competitive spirit that students with interests in both the sciences and engineering can benefit from.

When asked about the impact of this grant in the coming years, Nicholls professor, Dr. Hollander said, “I have always wanted to provide my students with a more hands-on experience when learning biology and chemistry. These models will be accessible to regional teachers for use anytime during the semester and provide an experience that cannot be provided otherwise.”

For more education-related information, click here.

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