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Teresa MacDonald
Director of Education
Public Education
Biodiversity Institute

Contact Information

Office Phone: 
Dyche Hall

Teresa MacDonald is Director of Education at the KU Natural History Museum. She holds a bachelor of arts, honors, degree in physical anthropology and a master of science in vertebrate paleontology. She has more than twenty years of science teaching experience in museums, science centers, universities and schools from kindergarten to college level on three continents. Teresa is also involved in several National Science Foundation grant-funded projects, including serving as the outreach director for Quarked! Adventures in the Subatomic Universe, a physics education project, and was the Principal Investigator for the Understanding the Tree of Life project.

Selected Papers
MacDonald, T. and Wiley, E.O. (2012). Communicating phylogeny: Evolutionary tree diagrams in museums. Evolution Education and Outreach, 5:14-28. DOI 10.1007/s12052-012-0387-0. (KU ScholarWorks

MacDonald, T., and Bean, A. (2011). Adventures in the Subatomic Universe: An exploratory study of a scientist-museum physics education project. Public Understanding of Science, 20(6): 846-862.

MacDonald, T. (2010). Communicating Phylogeny: Evolutionary tree diagrams in museums. Paper presented at NARST (National Association for Research in Science Teaching) annual conference, Philadelphia, PA, March.

MacDonald, T., and Bean, A. (2009). Quarked! Adventures in physics education. The Physics Teacher, 47:38-41.


Recent Blog Posts

May 20, 2011
A recent Science article reported by the New York Times presented the findings...
February 11, 2011
  Students hunt for insects in a science camp put on by the Natural...

Informal Science Education


Alice Bean - Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Kansas

Judy Wu - Department of Physics & Astronomy, University of Kansas

May 20, 2011

A recent Science article reported by the New York Times presented the findings of a study that compared the impact of a traditional lecture format to a more interactive approach to teaching in a large college physics class. The latter approach included soliciting students’ ideas and providing feedback, small group work, and in-class activities — and resulted in improved student learning, attendance and engagement.
The foundation of the ‘deliberate practice’ model and related ideas in educational research is that learners have their own ideas about how the world works, and that we can support learning by actively exploring and connecting with these existing ideas through meaningful, engaging experiences. In short, students are active participants in their learning.

Aquatic Biology summer camp

On a small scale, our Aquatic Biology summer camp could be viewed through the lens of ‘deliberate practice.’ It involves small group activities and provides opportunities for participants to practice their knowledge and skills. Youth are introduced to basic ideas about water quality and assessment techniques, exploring these techniques through a series of simple experiments, and then collecting and recording data in the field. We then discuss our findings.

The hitch with a more interactive and engaged approach is that it takes a lot of time. Consciously and deliberately designing your teaching around such strategies at any level is time-consuming, although it gets easier with experience. For example, creating field journals that are accessible and usable by 8 to 11 years olds takes thought and planning.

Many years ago as a graduate student in Canada I was involved with a Women in Science organization which conducted a study on the impact of a ‘female-friendly’ introductory college chemistry curriculum which included in-class activities and problem-solving with real-world connections. The result — test performance was on par with other sections, but student interest and motivation were significantly higher in the study group. It turned out that such strategies were not only ‘female-friendly’, but were in fact ‘student-friendly.’

An important finding from the Science study and others is that more engaging teaching strategies not only improve traditionally tested outcomes but also enhance student confidence, interest and motivation — critical factors in thinking about life-long learning and career choices. They can also support informed decision making about science/technology issues.

Museums and other informal science institutions are familiar with this approach as they seek to connect with visitors through their exhibits and programming. Such experiences support factual and conceptual understanding, but perhaps most powerfully influence affective elements related to learning such as engagement and motivation about science. Enhancing content knowledge and understanding as well as supporting an interest in science without the incentive (or disincentive) of a test is a powerful impact!

In a time with mounting pressures and decreasing resources, it can seem daunting to attempt such a course. But there are resources to help. KU’s Center for Teaching Excellence provides resources and workshops to support and enhance faculty teaching. A surprising success story comes from Quarked! Adventures in the Subatomic Universe, a collaborative KU physics education project that includes a website with videos and games. Originally targeted at youth 7 to 12, teachers and the general public, several physics faculty have found it useful for their classes to provide an overall conceptual framework for particle physics and the mechanisms involved.

Thoughtfully planned and informed learning experiences are time-consuming, but well worth it and become easier with time and practice. If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.

February 11, 2011
  Students hunt for insects in a science camp put on by the Natural History Museum   A recent New York...

From the Biodiversity Insitute blog

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June 6, 2011
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June 5, 2011
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