At the end of our Foundations of Science course at Yale-NUS, students had a chance to apply their knowledge of science (developed in two disciplinary mini-courses) toward a “Grand Challenge” facing the planet. Our 170 students all take Foundations of Science, which is a sophomore common curriculum course at Yale-NUS College. Unlike many of the other common curriculum courses, students choose 5-week disciplinary case studies based on their interests. They hone those interests by taking two of these small case study mini-courses, and then come together in groups of four to form an interdisciplinary team to work on the Grand Challenge, which is a final project for the course. The Grand Challenge teams are intentionally composed to mix student expertise, and the goal is for students to apply their knowledge toward a relevant and urgent problem facing the planet. As subject experts, the students are empowered within their team and can teach their teammates aspects of their subject that the team can use for the projects.
This Fall we tried this Grand Challenge format for the first time, and had an amazing showing of student expertise, energy and excitement at our Poster Fair. The teams of students were divided into two groups – the “Evolution” students were to design a study to assess “How are organisms and communities adapting to the anthropocene?” and the “Revolution” students were to “Develop a disruptive technology to help humans adapt to the effects of the anthropocene.” These teams of four students then went to work and came up with a research proposal that cited research literature, included experiments designed by students, with a timeline of completion for three years. Before the poster fair, these ideas were vetted by the teaching team of four instructors in a series of short consultations during class times. The Evolution students studied many different indicator species – snails, jellyfish, and bees among others. They proposed schemes for tracking animals, measuring their numbers and ranges, and even for assessing biodiversity. The Revolution students worked on a variety of interesting technologies – wireless transmitters for finding people in disasters, new smart materials for generating energy, and very ingenious applications of electronics, nanotechnology, and photovoltaics. The projects were impressive!
It was exciting to see our students rise to this Challenge, and we are hoping this form of authentic assessment in our Foundations of Science course will give the students a chance for integrating and applying their knowledge in a meaningful way. We have begun our second semester of the course, and we are looking forward to seeing how the second batch of posters turn out!
You can read more about Foundations of Science at our two class web sites: