Plenary Speaker Profile (2009)
Philip M. Sadler
Department Head, Science Education Department of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Senior Lecturer, Department of Astronomy
Harvard University
Separating Facts From Fads: The Evidence That Educators Need for Effective Science Instruction and Policy Decisions

U.S. schools are unique in the variety of teaching methods and curricula used for teaching science. Freedom to choose pedagogies and materials are most often vested with the classroom teacher. Because of this natural variation, we have utilized epidemiological methods to mine the backgrounds of college students taking introductory science courses for predictors of performance and persistence while controlling for demographic differences. In surveying thousands of students in randomly selected introductory college biology, chemistry, and physics courses, we have put to the test educators' cherished beliefs about the kinds of preparatory experiences and key resources that predict successful performance in college . I will report on our findings on the value of lab experience, technology, demonstrations, content coverage, block scheduling, class size, Advanced Placement courses, Physics First, project work, and mathematics preparation. We have also examined the role of teacher subject matter knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge on student gains. Of particular interest is teacher awareness of common student misconceptions as a predictor of student gains.

Dr. Sadler earned a B.S. in Physics from MIT in 1973 and taught middle school science and mathematics for several years before earning a doctorate in education in 1992. Dr. Sadler has taught Harvard's courses for new science teachers and for the next generation of professors, doctoral students in science. As F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Astronomy, he carries on Harvard's oldest undergraduate course in science, Celestial Navigation. He directs one of the largest research groups in science education in the U.S., based at the Harvard- Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. In 1999, Dr. Sadler won the Journal of Research in Science Teaching Award for work on assessing student understanding in science deemed "the most significant contribution to science education research" in the preceding year. His research interests include assessment of students' scientific misconceptions and how they change as a result of instruction, the development of computer technologies that allow youngsters to engage in research, and models for enhancement of the skills of experienced teachers. He was the executive producer of A Private Universe, an award-winning video on student conceptions in science. He won the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's Brennan Prize for contributions to astronomy teaching in 2002. He is the inventor of the Starlab Portable Planetarium and many other devices used for the teaching of astronomy, worldwide. Materials and curricula developed by Dr. Sadler are used by an estimated twelve million students every year.