Faculty Research Spotlight
Dr. Jeffrey Carver
Associate Professor of Science Education
Department of Curriculum & Instruction/Literacy Studies
Rockstar scientist professor sounds like an impossible profession, but it really isn’t- not if you become a science professor who has achieved rock star status.
Associate Professor Jeffrey Carver, Department of Curriculum and Instruction/Literacy Studies, began his education endeavoring, as many young students do, to become a famous vocalist for a rock band; and, like many educators, Carver’s love of science stems from former teachers who made the subject interesting for him.
Unlike most aspiring rock stars, Carver actually did become certified in music education, along with certifications in chemistry and physics education. Luckily for the CEHS, he chose to pursue the latter fields when it became obvious that, given his talents, a career in music wasn’t as lucrative.
After several years teaching chemistry, physics and physical science in high schools in IL, Carver thought teaching post-secondary science courses would be his career path. While pursuing his doctorate, a change in the program required that he transition his Ed.D. in Curriculum & Instruction from an area of emphasis in post-secondary education to an area of emphasis in teacher education. Since then, he has made his career instructing future science educators and conducting research in the improvement of teaching and learning in science.
Carver decided early on that he wanted to work with an institution that would allow him to do just that. West Virginia University seemed like the perfect fit.
“The first year I was offered a position, I turned it down because I was not convinced that the institution was going to be able to support the kind of work that I wanted to do. That process helped me to recognize both the kind of work that I wanted to do and the type of institution that was going to be able to support me in doing that work. When I did interview at WVU, it seemed like the place that was going to be both supportive of the work I wanted to do and the family lifestyle that I wanted to lead.”
In April 2008, Carver began working with the College of Education & Human Services. His first contribution to the college occurred even before he officially started, when he signed on to become a co-investigator for the Robert Noyce Teacher Scholarship grant, which is funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support students seeking to become teachers in STEM. That grant awarded $748,000 to the university, aiding numerous students with educational costs.
The second grant he was awarded is still ongoing. The NSF Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) grant is a large, multi-institutional, statewide collaborative project. Carver coordinates statewide educational efforts in partnership with Marshall University and West Virginia State University.
Of the $20 million total awarded for the RII, $1.2 million went to the college, where he works with the TREK project, part of NanoSAFE, formerly the WVNano initiative. TREK engages middle school and high school teachers in a nanotechnology research lab during the summer. During their experience, teachers develop a unit plan based on the research they do in the nanotech labs that they can take back to their classroom.
“We’ve had teachers placed in labs from pharmacy, to thin-film coatings in physics, to designing microfluidic devices in chemistry,” said Carver.
One unit currently taught at University High School involves dye sensitized solar cells that students build themselves in the classroom.
Recently, Carver, together with colleagues in Chemistry and a high school teacher participant in TREK, published a paper on one of the microfluidic devices developed in the lab and, through the WVU Technology Transfer program, the program is now working with a company to manufacture and distribute an apparatus that will help middle school and high school teachers teach common chemical principles with rapid results while on a tight budget.
Carver also teaches a pedagogical course with another part of the RII grant, the Learning Assistant Program, which operates through the WVU Physics Department. The program is a peer-tutoring model that involves educating peer tutors on basic teaching concepts. It has been largely successful at improving retention in large undergraduate physics courses by encouraging tutors to engage students in discourse related to the concepts they are studying in lecture.
Engaging students in science-related discourse is something Carver has been successful at doing. As Director of STEM Education Initiatives, his goal is to get students involved in all aspects of STEM and apply it to daily life. He saw that opportunity in the Carnegie Mellon University Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab, a program designed to foster interest in STEM learning among young students.
In Fall 2012, he partnered with faculty members Sara Aronin, Melissa Luna, Jim Rye, and Lynne Schrum to write a proposal to the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation for funding of a CREATE Satellite lab that would reflect the work being done at Carnegie Mellon.
Last year, the proposal received a two-year award of more than $200,000 to CEHS for the creation of the Mountaineer Educational CREATE Center (MECC). The MECC operates as an extension of CREATE Lab, working on select projects that fit its initiatives.
Faculty training for the MECC’s first project, GigaPan, began last summer. The GigaPan is a robotic camera arm that takes several hundred pictures of a scene. Using special software, the pictures are stitched together to create a super high-resolution panoramic photo, enabling viewers to zoom in several times without image distortion. The program collaborates with the garden-based learning program lead by professors Jim Rye and Melissa Luna.
After receiving training, K through 5 teachers used the pictures as points of discussion in the classroom, where students explored and observed what was happening in the picture. For example, when looking at a high resolution photo of a sunflower from their gardens, students at Morgantown’s North Elementary School were able to zoom in and identify parts of the plant or what insects cohabitate on it, effectively combining technology and robotics with scientific study.
Since Summer 2013, Carver has also established the CREATE Lab Arts & Bots project through MECC. So far, the project has trained 11 elementary teachers from Monongalia County and Harrison County on the use of the Arts & Bots system, which allows students to combine crafts with robotics.
“It was a program designed for middle school students, but it was not enough robotics for them. So we’ve essentially rebranded Arts & Bots for the elementary level and bill it as an art program where we build 3-dimensional art projects that we animate with robotics, making the robotics secondary to the art project.”
In doing so, MECC hopes to attract more elementary students who would not have traditionally thought of themselves as being interested in robotics. For the last year, Carver has worked to offer Arts & Bots to children through the Harrison County Parks and Recreation Department as well as the Children’s Discovery Museum of West Virginia, which now has dedicated Arts & Bots days after there was a high demand. Additionally, Carver says the MECC plans to partner with North Elementary and Mountainview Elementary teachers to conduct research on how students with special needs engage with the Arts & Bots program.
Furthering the university’s outreach and the college’s work with area elementary schools, Carver is partnering with CEHS Assistant Professor Ugur Kale to study a literacy improvement video game built by the Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center. Designed for students at Mountainview Elementary, Hello Ocean takes students through an underwater biome where students can explore, identify and learn. He and Kale will study the game’s impact on students’ literacy skills. Talks are currently ongoing for a similar game for the Children’s Discovery Museum of West Virginia, as well.
Carver is also currently involved with education and outreach for the WVU Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering’s EcoCAR3 competition. He is working with Freshman Academy teacher, Travis Wells, on developing a unit on alternative energy which will be taught in his classroom at UHS.
“We’d like to be able to get the car out to the school, possibly even get students to visit the college. Ultimately, we would like to create mini EcoCAR challenges for those high school students, in which they use the dye sensitized solar cells that they have built themselves to power model cars.”
He hopes these projects, combined with a $40,000 grant he secured for UHS to install solar panels that UHS students monitor, will lead to a structured alternative energy curriculum that could inspire students to become automotive mechanics, engineers, or pursue any number of careers in STEM.
Ultimately, that’s an end goal for every project to which Carver devotes his time, or the goal of at least instilling an appreciation for STEM. Throughout his career at the CEHS, he has and continues to work on developing the STEM Education Mountain of Excellence known as the Flexible Education Research Network (FERN); and though he never became a rock star, he does sing in the famous Pass Fail Band, which performs every year at the college’s Back to School Bash and CEHS Alumni tailgate party.