Book Reviews

Book by: Ney, Cheryl; Ross, Jacqueline; and Stremple, Laura (Eds.)
Review by: Stephanie Ritrievi
College of Natural Science
Michigan State University

How do the behaviors of water molecules in a liquid state provide a professional model for transformation for post-secondary science education? Flickering Clusters: Women, Science and Collaborative Transformations chronicles an examination and transformation in science education within the University of Wisconsin system.  Funded by the National Science Foundation this project resulted in collaborations between faculty and administrators across disciplinary units and college campuses. Here authors share their experiences as change agents and provide insight into the complexities and challenges of curriculum reform.  With a goal to attract and retain women and minority students in science, mathematics, and engineering, the program sought to a) increase faculty expertise in gender and science scholarship and pedagogy, b) create role models of professional women scientists, c) improve classroom and campus climate and d) create science communities (p. 10).

Many advisors will relate to author Cheryl Ney’s personal reflections on teaching when students seemed to understand chemistry concepts during class, but could not translate that knowledge to successfully complete homework. This account compels us as educators to utilize reflective teaching practices that draw upon the disciplines of education, cultural studies and cognitive and neuroscience.  Thus, the authors encourage us to move from the “sage on the stage” to become student-centered or the “guide by the side”.

Distinguished Visiting Professors (DVPs) served as catalysts for change in pedagogy by modeling classroom practice and serving as a resource for identified Faculty Fellows. This science community of DVPs and Faculty Fellows researched classroom practices as they relate to student retention. As a result classroom practices evolved to include student-centered approaches e.g., group learning, journaling, simulations, and one minute papers, which helped students frame a concept into a larger picture, along with practices that encourage students to use exams as diagnostic tools for further learning.

While the authors intended to share lessons learned in building collaborative

communities across departments and campuses, the multiple accounts of faculty and

administrative resistance seemed redundant. I found the most inte, and perhaps telling, chapters to be those addressing pedagogy, classroom climate and course content.  These sections included personal accounts of faculty who implemented new teaching practice as they reflect initial feelings of discomfort with student outcomes. In most cases these feelings were replaced with satisfaction as student performance and satisfaction improved through the course of the semester.

For advisors involved in science curriculum development, this book is a must-read.  Advisors outside the sciences will find the book useful to view the struggles of students transitioning to college-level science courses. Advisors teaching or facilitating first-year seminar courses may find that this book provides ideas for discussion of women in the sciences or the examination of science research within social, historical, or ethical contexts. This work is particularly pertinent for learning specialists responsible for supplemental instruction and tutoring as it can aid in the design of study approaches that can bridge the gap between student’s level of understanding and curriculum expectations.  For the reader interested in further research into the effect of sciences on retention, the text provides an appendix with a large number of publications. I would suggest starting with the Sheila Tobias book They're Not Dumb, They're Different: Stalking the Second Tier.


Tobias, S. (1990). They’re Not Dumb, They’re Different Stalking the Second Tier. An occasional paper on neglected problems in science education. Arizona: Research Corporation.

Flickering Clusters:  Women, Science and Collaborative Transformations. (2001). Book by Ney, Cheryl; Ross, Jacqueline; and Stremple, Laura (Eds.).  Review by Stephanie Ritrievi. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.  145 pp. $16.95 (paperback). ISBN #0-9679587-0-9.

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