Personal History of Miami University’s Discovery and E & A Centers
By: Jane Butler Kahle
In 1991, Ohio was one of the first 10 states to receive a National Science Foundation (NSF) Statewide Systemic Initiative (SSI) award of more than $11 million for improving science and mathematics education. States were expected to match the NSF funds, which Ohio’s Board of Regents (OBOR) did.
Ohio’s SSI was christened Discovery, and its motto was “Inquire to Discover.” The mission of the initiative was to provide quality professional development (PD) for Ohio’s mathematics and science teachers. Although Miami University (MU) originally shared responsibility for the initiative with The Ohio State University (OSU), the bulk of the work and funds fell to Miami. In order to manage Discovery, a center was formed in what is now the College of Education, Health, and Society at Miami. I use lower case for the word “center,” because when we began the initiative, we did not formally apply through Miami University for official “Center” status. Despite Discovery’s initial organizational status, everyone on Miami’s campus, and in the state, recognized Discovery as a Center. And, for the next several years, Discovery operated like a formal Center, receiving part of the indirect funds awarded to the University, handling its own budgets, and hiring its own staff.
As part of Discovery, faculty at Miami and Ohio State developed 6-week summer institutes that focused on science or mathematics content taught and learned through inquiry. Although initially the institutes were only offered at Miami and OSU, they spread across Ohio by establishing 8 Discovery Regional Professional Development Centers. Each region had leadership teams composed of scientists, mathematicians, and master teachers. These teams taught the institutes across the state.
The project then expanded to include principals to support the work of teachers implementing inquiry methods in their classrooms. To increase public understanding of the critical importance of mathematics and science education for Ohio’s economic future, Discovery developed the Discovery Guide as well as annual Pocket Panoramas. The Discovery Guide was a collection of mathematics and science activities, which parents and children could complete together
at more than 20 public parks and other locations in Ohio; while the Pocket Panorama publications were intended to inform state and national legislators, and education stakeholders of Discovery’s impact on the teaching and learning of science and mathematics.
In 1996, when NSF funding for the SSI ended, Discovery expanded its mission to include research, evaluation, and assessment of issues affecting mathematics and science teaching and learning. Under several excellent co-directors, (including Drs. Steven Rogg and Bruce Perry), the professional development component of Discovery continued, primarily supported by Ohio’s education agencies. At the same time, as Director of the entire initiative, I turned my focus to original research, evaluation, and assessment of mathematics and science projects, mainly supported by NSF and other federal agencies. Through these efforts, I helped secure additional funding to support Discovery’s newly-expanded mission, which now included mathematics and science education research,
evaluation, and assessment initiatives.
In 2001, while serving as an NSF Program Officer, on leave from Miami University, I was visited by a Vice-chancellor of the OBOR (now the Ohio Department of Higher Education – ODHE), who proposed the need for an evaluation and assessment center in Ohio. Shortly after my return to Miami, the Regents released a call for proposals for such a center. Miami University received the award, and a new Center was formed. Ohio’s Evaluation and Assessment Center for Mathematics and Science Education (E & A Center) was formally established as a Miami University Center, and an Ohio Board of Regents Center of Excellence.
Concomitantly, Miami University formally recognized Ohio’s original SSI initiative Discovery as an official Center—i.e., The Discovery Center. Ergo, two synergistic Centers were established in 2002. From 2002 on, the Centers shared the same space and staff and grew exponentially. Dr. Terry McCollum became the State-wide Director of the Discovery Center, while I focused on the E & A Center. Under Terry’s leadership, professional development was enhanced to include online efforts as well as school-based ones. Over time, external experts in research design, statistical analyses, under-represented groups in mathematics and science, and online-design, as well as outstanding K-12 teachers also collaborated with the Centers. These experts contributed greatly to both Centers’ expertise and were a major part of each Center’s growing reputation. Henceforth, both Centers were recognized for excellence, receiving many state and national grants and extending their reach to serve individuals and stakeholders across Ohio and the nation.
In 2008, Miami University was fortunate to attract Dr. Sarah Woodruff to oversee both Centers. Sarah’s expertise focused on the activities of the E & A Center, while the Discovery component was guided by Dr. Jim Byerly and Ms. Pat Witson, former teachers and participants in Discovery’s original professional development institutes. Dr. Woodruff’s comprehensive knowledge of science and math education in Ohio, as well as her expertise in research and evaluation, added new dimensions to the Centers. In addition, her knowledge of and understanding of the broad scope of the education system enabled her to visualize the next step for the Centers, which was the merger of Discovery and E & A into one, comprehensive Center. This merger, which was formally accomplished in 2015—occurred exactly 25 years after the initial SSI proposal was submitted to NSF!
Looking ahead to the next 25 years, the Discovery Center for Evaluation, Research, and Professional Learning is strongly positioned to continue to lead improvement in learning and teaching. Personally, I’ve been honored to have spent a quarter of a century helping Ohio, the US, and other countries improve science and math learning and teaching for all students—and, in providing evidence of both what works and what doesn’t (and why)!