Director for College of
Bill Walker's career has involved the entire spectrum of helping children learn science and mathematics — from researching pedagogy to teaching secondary math to assisting teachers with implementing research-based instructional methods.
He focuses on the latter in his two roles at Purdue. Walker is director for the College of Science K-12 Outreach program, and he is senior advisor for the I-STEM Resource Network, which is a statewide, STEM-learning venture. In both roles, Walker shares the most groundbreaking, research-driven ways to teach science and math.
What are the details of the College of Science's K-12 Outreach program?
In general, the College of Science K-12 Outreach program focuses on helping schools utilize research-based educational practices in science and mathematics, and it helps them transition to new education standards. We focus our efforts on Indiana schools, but our program is considered a model for other universities across the nation. There really are very few programs like ours in the U.S.
Through our outreach program we have partnerships with 10 schools in Indiana. I often visit those schools two or three times each month to meet with school leaders and teachers about incorporating research-based teaching methods into their classrooms. The program also holds a series of summer workshops in Indianapolis for teachers of students in kindergarten through eighth grade. The workshops discuss the latest in research-based instructional strategies, classroom content and how to connect literacy strategies with science education.
Part of the college's outreach program involves Science Express. What is that?
Science Express has been around since 1989. It delivers research-grade equipment — so items like mass spectrometers and nuclear scalers — to schools whose students otherwise wouldn't have access to these tools. Purdue owns the items, which are shared between 50 schools. Science K-12 Outreach coordinators train teachers how to use the equipment and, in turn, their students directly benefit.
What is the I-STEM Resource Network?
Purdue has managed the I-STEM Resource Network since it started in 2006. I-STEM is a statewide partnership of public and private higher education institutions, K-12 schools, businesses and government agencies, which work together to implement literacy for all students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). One of the signature programs in I-STEM is the Indiana Science Initiative (ISI), which involves approximately 130 schools, 2,000 teachers and 53,000 students in Indiana. ISI’s goal is to fully engage and excite students about science using hands-on kits that include materials for various experiments the students can conduct. Before I was the program's senior advisor, I was its director, so I've been heavily involved in this initiative.
We assemble I-STEM's science kits here at Purdue through Materials Management and Distribution, and I work closely with that team. I-STEM also develops the training that teachers are required to receive before they can use these kits in their classrooms. The training focuses on how to use the kits and how to keep instruction student-focused, so that students remain invested and engaged in lessons. The whole idea is to help Indiana schools improve their science instruction.
What have been the results of your efforts to help improve science and math education?
We have data for 10 of the schools that have been involved in the ISI for two years. Before the program, the average of the students in those schools was about 1.5 percent below the state average on ISTEP science and language arts tests. After a period of a year, they scored 5 percent above the state average in science and 3 percent above the state average in language arts. Evaluation data from Science K-12 Outreach programs show how our efforts have improved science and math instruction in our partner schools.
In general, Purdue's commitment to STEM education outreach is a key focus of our land-grant mission. We've made a commitment to give back to the community, and we recognize that a core piece of that commitment involves K-12 schools. Our outreach also helps affect economic development in the state, as Indiana has many employers in the STEM fields. That's a huge reason why STEM education is so important to us.
How does your background help inform the work you're doing now?
I completed a master's in math education at Purdue. Following that, I taught seventh- through 12th-grade students math, and so I was able to implement my research in my classroom. I learned, though, that implementing research-based teaching can be very difficult, and so when this job was open, I saw an opportunity to really help teachers incorporate these types of strategies into their classrooms.
It's very satisfying knowing that my work to help teachers will directly affect students. My goal is to lead teachers toward better learning outcomes for their students, and I think I'm in the best position to do just that.