Report on Reports

5. What Works: Building Natural Science Com... 1991 - Project Kaleidoscope


What Works: Building Natural Science Communities…1991

The health of the academic research enterprise rests on several factors that are mutually dependent and reinforcing. State-of-the-art facilities and equipment influence what research will be done and how productive it will be. And the environment in which scientists work is critical to recruiting new faculty and retaining them, thus ensuring the availability of sufficient numbers of future scientists and engineers.

Inadequate facilities, when combined with other pressures on investigators, such as increased difficulty in finding support for their research, are discouraging many young people from beginning careers in science and engineering. This failure to meet the nation’s need for highly trained people will have potentially disastrous consequences for the U.S. economy and national security. The nation simply cannot continue to allow the academic infrastructure to erode. It is inextricably linked to our most precious resource– human capital.

– Financing and Managing Academic Research Facilities. GUIRR, 1990.


After eighteen months of work, the first Project Kaleidoscope leadership cadre published a report in 1991. Entitled What Works: Building Natural Science Communities, it outlined a rationale for an action agenda based on their experience with what works. This early PKAL vision was of an environment in which learning is active, investigative and experiential, where the curriculum connects to the world beyond the campus and is steeped in the methods of research as practiced by professionals. The report focused on four critical initiatives, relevant both then and now.


  • Reform introductory courses in undergraduate STEM.

    A significant body of research and our own experience confirms that the first year of college is a critical drop-off point in the number of students in science and mathematics courses. Introductory courses can give first-year students the pleasure of discovery and the opportunity to construct a personal understanding of science and mathematics at a critical stage in their academic career.

  • Support the integrated teacher/scholar role of undergraduate STEM faculty.

    Hands-on, discovery-based, laboratory-rich approaches require that teaching faculty be actively engaged in scholarship. Such faculty foster a culture that enhances the community of learners. They are often the most productive leaders in curriculum reform and laboratory improvement efforts, locally and nationally. Faculty active in scholarship are the most effective role models for students.

  • Make disciplinary content and active learning central to the education of K-12 teachers in science and mathematics.
  • The single most important determinant of what elementary and secondary students learn in science and math is how much their teachers know. Teacher preparation must include substantial, deep exposure to the content of subjects they will eventually teach.

  • Develop partnerships focused on strengthening undergraduate STEM.
    Each sector of the science and mathematics community has a unique contribution to make in addressing national goals. We can accomplish more by working together than by working alone.