Paul Chalmers “Chal” Beisenherz, professor emeritus who taught science education at the University of New Orleans for 28 years, died Oct. 16 in Seattle, Wash. He was 78.
Those who knew Beisenherz said he was a passionate believer that science is most likely to come alive for children when their teachers have meaningful, hands-on opportunities to explore a variety of instructional methods. Over the course of his life and work, he advocated for schools to support this instruction by promulgating curricula policies and programs to sustain active, participatory science practices for children.
“Throughout his career and retirement from UNO, he remained influential in his field and a respected leader of science education, continuously advocating for science teachers to explore the world of inquiry during science instruction,” said Marylou Dantonio, his wife of 33 years as well as his longtime colleague at UNO.
Beisenherz joined the faculty of UNO’s College of Education in 1971 after completing his doctoral degree at the University of Washington. He was born in Parsons, Kan., and raised in Liberty, Mo., and came to love science early in life largely due to the influence of his aunt Aba Meyers, who taught science to junior high students, Dantonio said.
Beisenherz attended William Jewell College in his hometown, receiving bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology. He then went on to the University of Minnesota, where he received a master’s degree in education with an emphasis in science. He taught science in Minnesota’s K-12 public schools when he decided to further his understanding of teacher education through a doctoral research program based on science education.
At UNO, Beisenherz served as chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the 1980s. Before retiring from UNO in 1999, he mentored numerous educators through the University’s undergraduate and graduate programs, published 35 journal articles, delivered 85 papers to state and national associations and received 15 grants to implement inquiry-based science teaching and advance teaching standards.
Dantonio, who was on faculty at UNO for 17 years, said Beisenherz wrote and taught about model of instruction known as “the learning cycle.” This is a scientific inquiry-based approach that encourages students to develop their own understanding of a scientific concept, explore and deepen that understanding and then try to apply that concept to new situations.
He authored two books that came to be used widely in teacher preparation, “Using the Learning Cycle to Teach Physical Science: A Hands-on Approach for the Middle Grades,” and, co-authored with Dantonio, “Learning to Question: Questioning to Learn. Teacher Narratives on Inquires into Critical Thinking,” which promoted integrated effective questioning practices as important in the learning cycle method.
In addition, Beisenherz was deeply engaged in service to Louisiana public education, including building partnerships between the University and local schools, serving on state and national level policy committees, boards, and commissions; and serving as a board member for St. Tammany Parish Schools from 1990 to 1994. He was a lifelong member of the National Science Teachers Association and the Louisiana Science Teachers Association. After his retirement from UNO, Beisenherz went on to teach for two years at Southwest Minnesota State University, before moving to Everett, Wash., where he taught for another 10 years at Western Washington University in Bellingham until retiring permanently in 2014.
“He embodied the fullness of science teacher leader and it was important to him to produce and sustain other science leaders,” Dantonio said. “His love for teaching elementary and secondary teachers inquiry science methods and serving schools for the enhancement of science curriculum and instruction was his life’s passion.”
He is preceded in death by his parents, Water and Alice Beisenherz of Liberty, Mo. In addition to his wife, he is survived by his children: son Christopher Dantonio Beisenherz; son Michael Paul Beisenherz and his wife, Morgan Beisenherz; daughter Andrea Leigh Burgess and her husband, Clay Burgess; and three grandchildren, Jackson Beisenherz, Allison Burgess and Ashleigh Burgess.
The family requests donations in Beisenherz’s memory be made to the UNO International Alumni Association, Homer L. Hitt Alumni & Visitors Center, 2000 Lakeshore Dr., New Orleans, La. 70148, or else online; or else to the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), 1840 Wilson Blvd, Arlington, Va. 22201.