Harold (“Doc”) Wengert was called to the Laboratory School in 1967 to develop and teach a personalized program of study for chemistry. He held not only a doctorate in science education, but also an MBA in technology management. Noting the manner in which the others were teaching their respective courses, Wengert began writing PACE or Personalized Adventures in Chemistry Education.
In 1970, he and colleague James Kelly developed a manual for environmental education titled “Pollution—Man’s Crisis: An Investigative Approach.” In 1971, Wengert began to roll out boxed modules that both teachers and students could use: “History of the Atom: Greeks to Bohr” (25 colored slides in a box—and more); “”Bohr to Schroedinger” (9 colored slides and more); “Temperature vs. Volume” (9 colored slides); “Silver Nitrate to Silver Chloride” (20 colored slides).
“Avogadro’s Number” may best illustrate what Wengert and the other Science Department faculty were trying to do with self-paced packet modules. Avogadro’s number is the number of units in one molecule of any substance (defined as molecular weight in grams), equal to 6.022140857 x 1023. The units may be electrons, atoms, or ions depending on the nature of the substance and the character of the reaction (if any). Some students quickly understood the mathematics of this number with little need to spend much time in specific study. Other students needed to see how this number was determined and could do so through a laboratory application. There were also students who needed a step-by- step, cook-bookish model to realize the same understanding. Wengert’s packet offered 3 ways to reach the concept and a carefully designed path to student success.
Wengert evaluated his packets according to four student criteria: time spent on a task; adeptness with laboratory skills; writing competency; and recognizable understanding of the concepts addressed and their interconnecting associations. The teacher’s role was basically to teach one-on-one and not treat the class as a whole. Wengert’s Teachers’ Resource Manual for his Personalized Adventures in Chemical Education (PACE) ran to 326 pages.
In 1976, Wengert offered a workshop titled “Piaget and the World of Science Education” which showed how Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget’s principles of cognitive development could be integrated into science teaching. He soon was invited to serve on a Steering Committee for the Iowa State Department of Public Instruction which produced in 1980 A Tool for Assessing & Revising Science Curriculum. This valuable guide provides a step-by-step process for assessing and upgrading Iowa’s science curriculum, including a philosophy of science education and a series of goals and sub-goals:
“The science curriculum should be presented in a holistic and integrative manner that is tied to student needs, local situations, and societal issues. It should be experiential, whenever possible, so that students can practice essential skills. Therefore, every student should receive a sequentially planned science program designed to develop scientific literacy. In addition, we recommend the minimum number of minutes per week allotted to science should be as follows:
K-3: 100 minutes/week
4-6: 150 minutes/week
7-9: 250 minutes or more/week
10-12: 250 minutes or more/week”