When we start to view students not as ‘your students’ or ‘my students’ but as our students, that is where we can start to truly collaborate and transform student learning.

Soo-Yean Shim

As a high school student in South Korea, University of Washington College of Education PhD student Soo-Yean Shim was already imagining alternative approaches to make science classes engaging for all students.

Her inspiration came during a transformative experience in which she joined a genetics research team at a local university. In helping the team collect data, Shim found herself making sense of the world using resources and experimental data that she had gathered herself.

She embraced taking an active role in her education—something missing from her prior experiences with science education, which largely consisted of memorizing and repeating facts presented by a teacher.

Her experience with research led Shim to enroll in a teacher education course in South Korea. It was there that she was first introduced to the inquiry-based model of learning as a theoretical framework, and during an internship in Washington D.C., Shim saw how the theory could function in a live classroom.

“The way that the students were learning science was quite different from the experiences I had in my educational journey as a student,” Shim said.

While her own experience had been following scripted experiments, the students she observed “were engaging in various investigations to make sense of the world in their own ways.”

Helping students transition from information receivers into knowledge builders is a core value of the inquiry-based model of learning. Within this framework, Shim said, teachers become facilitators of the knowledge building process rather than sole providers of scientific knowledge.

Following her internship, Shim returned to South Korea to earn her master’s in science education. While reading articles on science education research, she discovered the work of Jessica Thompson, Mark Windschitl, and Jennifer Richards at the UW College of Education. Intrigued by their studies on model-based scientific inquiry and teacher education, Shim was inspired to apply to the College’s curriculum and instruction program with a focus on science education.

“There were two things that fascinated me about their work: the application of model-based inquiry and emphasis on collaboration among teachers,” Shim said. “They valued what students brought to the table and how teachers could improve their practices through collaboration. That’s what made me want to come to UW.”

During the first three years of her PhD program, Shim worked with Thompson and Richards on their research in the Highline and Seattle school districts, focusing on growing collaboration among teachers to position their students as knowledge builders in their classrooms.

This year, Shim is continuing her work at a high school in the Highline district for her dissertation research, examining the ways that science teachers’ collaborative efforts to improve their teaching in a professional learning community can contribute to providing rich opportunities for diverse students to learn science in meaningful ways.

“When we start to view students not as ‘your students’ or ‘my students’ but as our students, that is where we can start to truly collaborate and transform student learning,” Shim said. 

In the future, Shim plans to continue contributing to science education research by positioning students as active knowledge builders while promoting collaboration among teachers.

“I hope for students to be positioned as knowledge builders so that they can bring in their own perspectives and ways of making sense of the natural world into science classrooms,” she said. “In collaborations among students, teachers and across schools, I see the potential for making major improvements in science education for all students.”


Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu