Professor Melanie Cooper
Winner: 2020 Education Award
Michigan State University
For outstanding accomplishments in designing, implementing and evaluating evidence-based chemistry curricula and catalysing the careers of many chemistry education researchers.
Celebrate Professor Melanie Cooper
Professor Cooper’s work has focused on improving the chemistry education of university-level students. In the United States these courses (in general and organic chemistry) are taken by a wide range of students who intend on careers in science, health or engineering. Unfortunately, the so-called “gateway” courses often act as gate-keepers.
Professor Cooper and her team have developed curricula for general and organic chemistry courses that are based on what they know about how people learn. For example, at Michigan State University, over 4000 students take the general chemistry course in a given year. Professor Cooper and her team worked to transform the course which has resulted in over 700 students per year passing, with their research showing that these students continue to be successful as they move forward. Additionally, the materials they have developed are freely available for students, saving them over $1,000,000 per year in textbooks and materials fees.
All of this has been made possible by the research that the group and others have conducted into chemistry education research.Read full biography
Professor Melanie Cooper is the Lappan-Phillips Professor of Science Education and Professor of Chemistry at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on the development and assessment of high school and college level science curricula based on theories of learning and evidence about how people learn.
She was a member of the leadership team for the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for the United States and served as a committee member for the National Academy of Science reports on Discipline Based Education Research (DBER), and Undergraduate Research Experiences (URE).
Professor Cooper is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, the American Chemical Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was a member of the National Academies of Science Advisory Board on Science Education (BOSE). She has received a number of awards including the American Chemical Society Award for Achievement in Research on Teaching and Learning in Chemistry, the Norris award for Outstanding Achievement in Teaching of Chemistry, the Outstanding Undergraduate Science Teacher Award from the Society for College Science Teaching and was awarded an honorary D.Sc. from the University of South Florida.
Prof Cooper earned her B.S., M.S. and PhD in chemistry from the University of Manchester, England.
What motivates you?
My motivations are:
1) I want others to see how interesting and useful chemistry can be. But for that to occur, students must understand basic principles of chemistry and be able use evidence to make arguments, predict and explain real world phenomena. That is why I want them to be able to go beyond memorization and rote problem solving – chemistry should be engaging and enriching, interesting and relevant to students’ lives.
2) I want to understand how we can apply our knowledge about how people learn in general to how they learn chemistry. This requires an interdisciplinary approach to research that incorporates chemistry as a discipline, cognitive and educational psychology and science education.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge has been to find ways to support the adoption of learning materials and approaches that are supported by evidence and provide demonstrably improved understanding on the part of students. It turns out that many faculties are most comfortable with how they were taught, and it is difficult to persuade them to change.