Fenk inspires others to discover chemistry
Dr. Christopher Fenk’s passion for chemistry and academic excellence motivates him to inspire students and teachers to discover a greater interest in chemistry. For the past eight years, Fenk, associate professor of chemistry at Kent State Tuscarawas, has been leading Conceptual Chemistry, a Kent State University graduate course designed to enhance middle school teachers’ chemistry instructional skills.
Offered by the Kent State Tuscarawas and Stark campuses, the 5-credit-hour graduate course assists teachers of grades 4 through 9 in their understanding of chemistry and provides concrete ideas they can take back to their classrooms to teach their students. More than 225 middle school teachers have taken the course tuition-free due to grants Fenk has been awarded. They also receive approximately $850 worth of textbooks, activity books and hands-on materials for use in their classrooms.
Fenk and Dr. Claudia Khourey-Bowers, associate professor of science education at Kent State Stark, wrote and received grants from the Ohio Board of Regents Improving Teacher Quality Program, which is part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The program distributes federal funds to all 50 states to support activities designed to increase student achievement by elevating teacher quality.
For the current academic year, Fenk and Khourey-Bowers received $106,072 from the Improving Teacher Quality State Grants Program. But in the last eight years, they, along with Dr. Doris Simonis, have been awarded more than $825,000.
Course delivery begins with an intensive week of classes in June, followed by Saturday classes during fall semester, providing a total of 80 hours of university instruction. The class size is limited to 36 participants and has been offered at both the Tuscarawas and Stark campuses. Course instructors are Fenk; Khourey-Bowers; Gene Easter, a retired high school chemistry teacher; and Carol Thombs, a multi-grade science teacher for the Outdoor School of Richland County.
"My involvement with Conceptual Chemistry began in 2002 when I was contacted by Doris Simonis of the Kent Campus," explains Fenk. "She had read about my community outreach activities in a 2001 feature story in Northern Ohio Live magazine. I had been working with middle school children since the mid-1990's and the featured project was an extension of my professional efforts."
According to Fenk, "The Improving Teacher Quality Program requires the team to include a faculty member from the College of Education and a faculty member associated with the department of the core discipline in which the in-service training is provided. Consequently, the grants must be submitted with the member from the College of Education and the core discipline member listed as Co-PI's. Dr. Khourey-Bowers and I have been collaborators on this project since 2004. Prior to that time I submitted the grant applications with Dr. Doris Simonis of Kent State's College of Education (TLCS) until her retirement in 2003."
Dr. Joanne Salay, an independent external reviewer, verified the success of Conceptual Chemistry as a professional development program by visiting several of the course sessions and interviewing the program participants. "We were very pleased when Dr. Salay found that all program goals and objectives as defined in the original funding proposal were met," says Fenk. "Since 2004, she has evaluated the course each year and prepared a comprehensive report of her findings."
Fenk and Khourey-Bowers also conducted a two-year study of the program to determine its effectiveness. "The pre-/post-test survey of two separate cohorts of program participants consisted of a seven-question assessment containing both qualitative and quantitative answer components," adds Fenk. "Overall, the study concluded that elementary teachers who participated in Conceptual Chemistry gained both content knowledge and advanced in pedagogical content knowledge. This was substantiated by gains in scientific representational thinking and implementation of conceptual change strategies and model development in their classrooms. The results of this study appeared in the Journal of Science Teacher Education, a peer-reviewed international journal." (http://faculty.kent.edu/cfenk/professor/Publications/JSTE_Article_2009.pdf
Fenk is co-authoring an article "The Effect of Inquiry-Based Professional Development On Teacher Conceptions As Measured by the Chemistry Concepts Inventory," which focuses on evaluating the success of professional development programs for in-service teachers. Research taken from evaluations of three cohorts of Conceptual Chemistry participants between 2007 and 2010 will be included in the article, which will be submitted to the Journal of Chemical Education.