ERIN FURTAK, PhD
2007 KSTF Research Fellow
School of Education
University of Colorado, Boulder
Dr. Erin Furtak is not surprised to find herself in a career that emulates that of her parents. “My mom was a public school teacher always going through wave after wave of reform movements, and my dad was a physics professor trying to change the way his entire department taught undergraduate courses.” Those early dinner table conversations stimulated her interest in helping to raise awareness of the challenges in science education, and to deliver practical solutions for teachers to use in helping students deepen their understanding of fundamental concepts.
After earning her bachelor’s degree in biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder and her master’s in Education at the University of Denver, Erin taught high school science for two years in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. Fortified with experiential knowledge of the classroom, she pursued a PhD in curriculum and teacher education at Stanford University, earning her degree in 2006. She received a German Chancellor Fellowship by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to fund her post-doctoral research, working in a dual placement at the Leibniz Institute for Science Education in Kiel, Germany, and the Max Planck Institute for Educational Research in Berlin.
Erin’s research investigates how students develop understanding of evolution through natural selection. “Natural selection is the key to understanding biology and its unifying framework. However, students often have difficulty understanding it.” Evolution instruction in inquiry-based settings can be intimidating, especially for beginning teachers, because students often generate complicated ideas that are difficult to interpret. By helping teachers to find out what students know, Erin hopes her research will offer a guide to specific ways that teachers can help students. “We can offer teachers practical steps on what to do to help students better understand this complex but critically important concept.”
Erin is also exploring how a map of student ideas about natural selection can support the development of beginning biology teachers’ knowledge for teaching and, in turn, improve student learning. “Its importance lies in understanding how these maps of student ideas – also called learning progressions - might provide support to beginning teachers at the challenging intersection of evolution instruction and scientific inquiry teaching.”
Awards And Recognitions
German Chancellor Fellowship, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2006-2007); Maxima A. Dandoy Fellowship, Stanford University (2002-2003).
- Furtak, E. M., & Alonzo, A. C. (In Press).The Role of Content in Inquiry-Based Elementary Science Lessons: An Analysis of Teacher Beliefs and Enactment. Research in Science Education.
- Furtak, E. M. (2009). Formative Assessment for Secondary Science Teachers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
- Furtak, E. M., & Ruiz-Primo, M. A. (2008). Making Students’ Thinking Explicit in Writing and Discussion: An Analysis of Formative Assessment Prompts. Science Education, 92, 799-824.
- Furtak, E. M., Ruiz-Primo, M. A., Shemwell, J. T., Ayala, C. C., Brandon, P., Shavelson, R. J., Yin, Y. (2008). On the Fidelity of Implementing Embedded Formative Assessments and its Relation to Student Learning. Applied Measurement in Education, 21(4), 360-389.
- Furtak, E.M. (2006). The Problem with Answers: An exploration of guided scientific inquiry teaching. Science Education, 90(3), p. 453-467.
- Furtak, E.M & Ruiz-Primo, M.A. (2005, January). Questioning Cycle: Making Students’ Thinking Explicit During Scientific Inquiry. Science Scope, p. 22-25.
Students come to school with crazy ideas about how the natural world works based on their everyday experiences. My research focuses on helping teachers learn to anticipate these ideas and develop concrete ways of teaching to help students learn.