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UConn researcher receives prestigious NSF award
(Released: 3/31/00)

By Janice Palmer, Office of University Communications

STORRS, Conn. -- For the first time, a faculty member from the Neag School of Education has been chosen to receive the National Science Foundation's Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award. During the next four years, Sadhana Puntambekar, an assistant professor of educational psychology, will be receiving nearly $357,000 to design on-line materials for the middle school science classroom.

"This is not only confirmation that Sadhana Puntambekar is an outstanding scholar, it is verification from one of the premier funding institutions that her ideas and research have the potential to profoundly affect school classrooms around the world," says Scott Brown, head of the Department of Educational Psychology.

Puntambekar's main objectives are: to design hypertext materials to help students learn science as an integrated body of knowledge, to determine how students learn from these materials, and to train classroom teachers to use them.

The trend in schools is to use computer technology as a tool and the world wide web as a resource to enhance project-based and inquiry-based teaching strategies. But anyone who uses the Internet for research knows how frustrating, confusing and time consuming it can be.

"There is an overwhelming amount of information to sort through. Students looking up information often get lost in the number of links they find and have a difficult time determining what information is valid," says Puntambekar.

Instead of using traditional linear methods of presentation, as found in a book, Puntambekar is using a nonlinear approach in creating a conceptual map that will show the interrelationships between the sciences. Students would be able to "click" to related and relevant information and at the same time be encouraged to follow their own investigative paths.

Puntambekar is confident that hypertext materials can be a valuable resource, if created and used properly.

"In middle and junior high schools, science is taught in compartments," she says. "For example, in understanding planets, physics shades into chemistry, astronomy and geology. My project will help students understand these relationships by presenting material in a non-linear format."

This summer, Puntambekar will work with the teachers who will use the materials in their classrooms.

"It has to be a collaborative effort to be successful," she says. "They know what their classroom needs are, and that's something researchers have to learn more about; on the other hand, they need to learn how to integrate the technology into their curricula. So it becomes a rich give-and-take experience."

Next spring the new teaching materials are expected to be ready for a workout in the classroom. So far, schools in East Hartford, Glastonbury, Mansfield and Tolland have agreed to participate. In the meantime, Puntambekar is in search of four new graduate students, who will be funded by this project for four years.

Brown says, "Given the significance of this project, we'll be able to recruit top grads from all over the country - students who might have gone to Georgia Tech or Stanford University will take a serious look at what UConn has to offer. It's cutting-edge research."

The NSF is funding fewer than 10 education research projects this year. It established the CAREER grant program several years ago, to support what it describes as "exceptionally promising college and university junior faculty who are committed to the integration of research and education."

The award makes Puntambekar eligible for the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers.

March 2000 Releases
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