CPLC Program Evaluation

We aim to evaluate the impact of our outreach program on three key groups:
1) secondary school students
2) secondary school teachers
3) science and engineering graduate students.

To accomplish this, we have developed collaborations with evaluation experts from the College of Education at the University of Illinois who use mixed-methods to understand the experiences of each key group. Results from these evaluations are used to improve our ongoing projects and inform the overall direction of our program. Please see the individual project descriptions below for more information.

Campus Middle School for Girls (CMS) Outreach

Project Description:

The aim of this project is two-fold. We aim to
1) Develop resources that connect the middle school curriculum to research at the fronteir of biological physics
2) Provide CPLC graduate students with the training in K-12 lesson development and teaching that will allow them to participate effectively in outreach in the future and better communicate their research to non-specialists.

To accomplish these goals, we have teamed up with science teachers and students at CMS, a private middle school for girls located less than a block from the CPLC. CMS is an ideal outreach partner due to their flexible curriculum and class schedule as well as their committed faculty and administration who are excited about collaborating with university scientists.

The primary focus of the Spring, 2010 program, was to develop a series of lessons and labs to teach the same concepts in different contexts. In particular, we developed a laboratory investigation and a molecular visualization activity (using the software VMD developed by Klaus Schulten's group) to complement each hands-on classroom activity. We focused on the cell biology unit of the 7th grade curriculum and the structure and function of nucleic acids and proteins in particular. We also trained teachers in the use of VMD and used their feedback to further tailor the lessons to the curriculum and students' background. In addition, the K-12 Outreach Coordinator trained a CPLC graduate student to lead the molecular visualization lessons and scientists from the Schulten lab presented demonstrations to illustrate how the software can be used for scientific research.

Evaluation Description:

1) Jennifer Greene, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, led an evaluation of the CPLC-CMS outreach program, in addition to two other science outreach projects in which CMS 7th graders particpated during the Fall, 2010 - Spring, 2011 school year. The goal of this evaluation was to "(1) describe and assess the character and quality of CMS students' experiences in the sceince outreach projects, their perceptions and reflections on the relevance and value of the outreach projects to their science learning, and (2) engage with the challenge of asessing the fit of the CMS science outreach projects to the broader outreach mission of the UIUC STEM education community." Please contact Jennifer Greene for more information about this study.

2) Sharlene Denos, the CPLC K-12 Outreach Coordinator, also led an internal evaluation of the Spring, 2010 CMS Outreach Program. The following table summarizes the goals, expected outcomes and assessment tools used to evaluate the program. A publication of the outreach and evaluation are currently in preparation. Please contact Sharlene Denos for more information.

Program Goal
Expected Outcomes
Assessment Tool(s) Used
Make learning science more like doing science
More collaborative learning, more problem solving, increased awareness and use of the scientific method
Classroom observation, CMS students’ lesson products, CMS teacher surveys
Increase motivation for and confidence in science among K-12 student participants
Increased desire to study science or to become a scientist.
CMS student surveys
Change K-12 student & teacher perceptions about scientists and about the nature of science
Improved self-perceptions about science aptitude.
Increased understanding of what a scientist does on a daily basis and how scientific discoveries can be applied.
CMS students’ and teacher surveys
Promote inquiry-based instruction by K-12 teachers.
Increased understanding of inquiry methods and awareness of their importance. Increased use of labs and lessons that promote hands-on learning and problem solving.
Classroom observations, CMS teacher surveys
Improve communication and teaching skills of CPLC graduate students
Improved ability to communicate science to a diverse audience
Classroom observations, CMS teacher surveys, CPLC graduate student surveys


1) Greene, JC, Ahn, J., Boyce, A. (2010) Science Outreach Projects, Campus Middle School for Girls, 2009-2010 Evaluation Report.

Illinois Researchers in Partnership with Science Educators (iRISE)

Project Description:

The aim of this project is to develop a new science education course specifically for STEM graduate students. This course will be offered for the first time this Spring, 2011 semester as Physics 598SE, and will teach students how to create engaging outreach lessons for middle grade students at the local Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club (DMBGC). The course will focus on teaching science as inquiry and connecting graduate students’ research with the middle school curriculum. Students will receive training in embracing diversity in the classroom and will receive instruction in lesson development, assessment and pedagogy for middle-grade learners. The lessons will be field tested as part of the iRISE Outreach Program at DMBGC and the final, revised lessons will be packaged for dissemination online and during the Summer, 2011 iRISE Teacher Workshop. This project is a collaborative effort between UIUC faculty and graduate students in the sciences, engineering and education but will also draw on experts, such as veteran middle school teachers, DMBGC administrators and on campus K-12 outreach leaders to provide guest lectures and support the lesson development process.

Evaluation Description:

Our aim with this evaluation is to answer the following questions:
1) How are Physics 598SE graduate students better prepared to participate in K-12 outreach as a result of this course? Are they more likely to be involved as a result of this course?
2) How are Physics 598SE graduate students better able to communicate their research to non-specialists (in and outside of science) as a result of this course?
3) To what extent are the DMBGC iRISE participants more interested in science/engineering as result of this outreach program? Do they have increased confidence in STEM subjects or in their ability to be a scientist or engineer?
4) What are DMBGC children's learning experiences like? Did participation in this outreach program change the DMBGC children’s perceptions of scientists/engineers or the nature of science/engineering?

For more information about the iRISE evaluation, please contact Tang Wee Teo, Doctoral Coandidate in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction a the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.