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ASU professor recognized for innovations in science education

November 29, 2012

Lectures, PowerPoint presentations and assigned readings are the basis of the typical classroom experience, but experts say science education is moving away from this traditional teaching routine.

A new teaching style called inquiry-based instruction focuses on student inquiry and project-based learning. It encourages students to develop creative and practical problem-solving, experts said. Download Full Image

Kip Hodges, founding director of Arizona State University’s School of Earth and Space Exploration, will be honored in this week’s issue of Science magazine for his work in developing this teaching style.

Hodges was chosen as one of 15 recipients of the Science Prize for Inquiry Based Instruction by the editors of Science magazine. He describes his work in an essay published in the Nov. 30 issue of Science: “Instead of giving students information in a classroom, the idea behind inquiry-based instruction is to create an environment where students have to find things out for themselves,” Hodges writes.

Hodges initially developed the idea for his teaching style for a class named “Solving Complex Problems” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he taught before moving to ASU in 2006. In that class, Hodges said he challenged his students to design a mission to Mars to search for signs of past or present life.

“Students had to learn how to find information from many different domains of science, engineering and policy,” Hodges said. “They learned how to think across the boundaries of traditional disciplines.”

At ASU, he used the same approach teaching “Engineering Systems and Experimental Design,” a class typically taken by students majoring in Earth and Space Exploration in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Aerospace Engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport, and Energy. Frequently, he partnered in teaching the course with Winslow Burleson, a faculty member in ASU’s School of Computing and Informatics.

Shay Cheeseman, an Earth and Space Exploration senior, took the class as a sophomore. Her class was given the challenge of designing a mission to the moon. Cheeseman said the class taught her skills that more traditional classes do not, including teamwork and taking an interdisciplinary approach toward problem-solving.

“Students did a lot of work to make sure everybody did their part,” she said. “You have people depending on you, so it’s more like a work situation.”

Raymond Sanders, a senior astrophysics major, was a classmate of Cheeseman. He said the class focused on how science is done “in the real world.”

From the student’s perspective, “a lot of traditional lecture courses wind up being simple regurgitation,” Sanders said. “Hodges’ course takes the practical approach of ‘Here is a problem. I want to see how you solve it.’”

Sanders explains that creativity is a key part of effective problem-solving, especially when Hodges would throw challenges at the class like “What if your rocket blows up during the launch?”

“Hodges didn’t put constraints on anything. He didn’t want us talking about Star Trek or Star Wars, but he did want us to find novel ways to solve the problem,” Sanders said.

Hodges said that one of the goals of inquiry-based education is to teach students how to be creative.

“When you’re an undergraduate, much of your education is about learning how to solve problems for which there is an answer key,” he said. “But after you graduate, society asks you to solve problems that have no well-defined solution, and that require much greater creativity.”

Hodges hasn’t taught the engineering systems and experimental design class since the Fall 2011 semester because of curriculum restructuring within the school. But starting in the Spring 2013 semester, Hodges will teach the senior capstone course for the school’s BA major in Earth and Environmental Studies as an inquiry-based class.

“The more we teach students that there is a profound value to creativity, the better we’re serving them in terms of preparing them for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Story written by Kristen Hwang

Associate Director, Media Relations & Strategic Communications


ASU News

ASU Art Museum receives NEA grant for international artists residency program

November 29, 2012

Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), announced that the ASU Art Museum in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts is one of 832 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. The ASU Art Museum is recommended for a $45,000 grant to support its International Artist Residency Program at Combine Studios in downtown Phoenix.

“We’re immensely honored that the NEA recognizes and supports the work of the ASU Art Museum to serve as a catalyst for social change through the innovative vision and work of international artists,” said Gordon Knox, director of the museum. “Art is a way of knowing and investigating the world and this grant allows us to build more collaborations and reach new audiences.” Download Full Image

The NEA funds will support the ASU Art Museum International Artist Residency Program at Combine Studios which brings accomplished professional artists from around the world to develop new work in partnership with the intellectual resources of Arizona State University and the diverse communities within Arizona. Through the program, artists develop work in collaboration with scientists, technologists, social agencies and community organizations that investigate the pressing issues of our time.

Greg Esser, director of the International Artist Residency program and the Desert Initiative, plans to bring four international artists to Arizona to develop new work. “This program represents an incredible opportunity for Arizona residents to engage with international artists and to deepen the impact of research and learning at ASU,” said Esser.

In March 2012, the NEA received 1,509 eligible applications for Art Works grants requesting more than $74 million in funding. Those recommended for grants span 13 artistic disciplines and fields and focus primarily on the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing works for the benefit of American audiences. Applications were reviewed by panels of outside experts convened by NEA staff and each project was judged on its artistic excellence and artistic merit.

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, visit the NEA website at

Combine Studios is located at 821 N. Third St. connecting the ASU campus to the Roosevelt Row Arts District. The building, owned by Phoenix artists Matthew Moore and Carrie Marill, includes six residential units for visiting artists, a common kitchen area, resource library and a storefront gallery and event space. For more information about the international residency program, visit the Desert Initiative website.