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general issues


Background on SEPUP


SEPUP (Science Education for Public Understanding Program) began in 1987 as a not-for-profit project to develop hands-on materials about chemicals and their use for schools and community groups. It was initially called CEPUP (Chemical Education for Public Understanding Program). As the mission of the project expanded to include other scientific disciplines, the name changed to SEPUP.

Part of UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science, SEPUP continues to be a not-for-profit project that is primarily supported by grants. However, most of our curriculum is now intended for schools. We have commercially available curricular materials that are used in school districts from Los Angeles to New York. For information on purchasing these materials, please visit LAB-AIDS, the sole producer and distributor of SEPUP materials.

We continue to work with school districts around the country on our current projects. Please click on the “News” tab above to find out more about current SEPUP projects.


What is Issue Oriented Science?

Should you throw your old computer into the trash?
What can you do to reduce the risk of getting food poisoning?
How can releasing your unwanted pet into the wild affect the environment?

These are the types of personal and societal issues that SEPUP uses to engage students in the study of science. Students are provided with some evidence about the issue at hand, but they often realize that they have more questions than answers. These new questions are addressed in a series of science activities that introduce and teach relevant science concepts. Eventually, students apply their new science knowledge to reconsidering the issue.

The goals of issue-oriented science are:

  • to engage students in the process of learning science
  • to encourage students to use scientific evidence to make decisions
  • to help educate tomorrow's citizens about the application of science to everyday life.

SEPUP curriculum does not advocate a particular position on issues, but encourages students to support their views with relevant evidence. SEPUP selects issues that:

  • require an understanding of important scientific concepts and processes
  • require an application of evidence
  • are interesting and accessible to diverse groups of students
  • are complex enough to foster discussion and debate

Looking for a specific example? Check out our Curricular Materials.


Staff Bios

Barbara Nagle, Director
Barbara Nagle has a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Wellesley College and a Ph.D. in cell biology from the University of Pennsylvania. She conducted postdoctoral research on cell division and cell motility at UC Berkeley. Before joining SEPUP, Barbara taught high school chemistry in Oakland, California and college level biology courses at the University of Pennsylvania and UC Berkeley. She has contributed to numerous NSF-funded SEPUP curriculum modules and units as an author, project coordinator, and/or project director. Her published products, developed in collaboration with the SEPUP team, include a complete middle school science series that includes Issues and Earth Science, Issues and Life Science, and Issues and Physical Science, and two high school courses titled Science and Sustainability and Science and Global Issues: Biology. She is currently Co-PI of the NSF-funded DRK-12 project Moving Next Generation Science Standards into Practice: A Middle School Ecology Unit and Teacher Professional Development Model, a collaboration between the American Museum of Natural History, the University of Connecticut, and the Lawrence Hall of Science.

John Howarth, Co-Director
Joining SEPUP in April 2008, John Howarth is currently the Co-Director. A 1995 recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, John has twenty-five years of experience teaching secondary science and eight years as Science Curriculum Supervisor and Executive Director for Curriculum and Instruction for the Grand Rapids Public Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan. John successfully introduced inquiry-based science programs in grades K-12 in schools in both Michigan and Wyoming. Prior to teaching in the United States, he used an inquiry approach to teach science in secondary schools and colleges in Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei. He also has a long history of using technology in science education and has been recognized as the IBM Teacher of the Year for Wyoming and as Technology and Learning magazine’s Teacher of the Year for the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Northwest region. During his time with SEPUP John has contributed to Science and Global Issues: Biology, Issues and Physical Science, SEPUP Science Grades 6 – 8 Texas Edition, and Disruptions in Ecosystems: Ecosystem Interactions, Energy, & Dynamics, a middle school unit aligned with the NGSS and developed in collaboration with the American Museum of Natural History with funding from the National Science Foundation. John received his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and postgraduate certificate in education, specializing in the teaching of physics and applied science, from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, and master’s degree in educational leadership from Western Michigan University

Janet Bellantoni, Curriculum and Professional Development Specialist
Since joining SEPUP in 2001, Janet Bellantoni has performed a variety of curriculum development roles. Janet was the Project Coordinator for, and one of the main developers of, Issues and Earth Science, a middle school earth science course. Janet developed the “Force and Motion” unit and “Waves” unit for Issues and Physical Science, as well as revised the “Energy” unit in that course. Janet also was the lead author for the introductory “Sustainability” and the “Electricity” units of Science and Global Issues, SEPUP’s high school course (in press). Currently, Janet is the Project Coordinator for the Next Generation Science Standards revision of SEPUP’s middle school materials. Prior to her work as a curriculum developer, Janet served for seven years as a high school physics teacher and as a Dean of Students in public and private schools in Massachusetts, New York, and California. She has a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Rochester, a Master’s degree in science education from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, and completed graduate studies in deaf education at Gallaudet University.

Maia Willcox, Curriculum and Professional Development Specialist
Maia holds a bachelor’s degree in Integrative Biology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Animal Sciences from the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Maia began her career in education teaching high school in San Francisco, California where she taught Biology, other life science courses, and reading skills courses for English Language Learners. She also served as the Science Department Chair before moving on to work as the middle and high school Science Content Specialist for the district, developing and executing professional development workshops for all of the district’s middle and high school science teachers. Maia joined the SEPUP team in 2007. Her published products, developed working in collaboration with the SEPUP team, include the high school science course Science and Global Issues: Biology and several middle school life science units. She is currently Director of the San Francisco/Bay Area Center for the Amgen Biotech Experience, a program that provides professional development, curriculum, and materials for Bay Area teachers to teach biotechnology. She also is in her fifth year directing a series of projects to develop hands-on, informal science programs for middle and high school students in Saudi Arabia, including delivering professional development for teachers from Saudi Arabia delivered both at the Hall and in Saudi Arabia.

Wendy Jackson, Curriculum and Professional Development Specialist
Wendy Jackson is a Curriculum Developer with SEPUP, having arrived in 2015 from DePaul University where she served as Director of the DePaul-Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Science Partnership. This partnership provided support for K-12 science teachers, as well as school and district administrators, as they implemented the NGSS. Previously she had been the Middle Grade Science Specialist for CPS, responsible for supporting the implementation of SEPUP, facilitating professional development on SEPUP curriculum, and developing a cadre of professional development leaders drawn from the ranks of outstanding middle grade science teachers. Wendy came to K-12 education through an alternative certification program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and was an NSF Noyce Scholar, before spending five years as a middle grade science teacher in CPS, where she used SEPUP in her own classroom. Wendy received a Ph.D. in Ecology from the University of Washington and was a faculty member at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition to conducting ecological research, she directed several programs to build capacity for promoting environmental and conservation programs both abroad and in Chicago. Wendy also served as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the U.S. Agency for International Development as the Environmental Policy Specialist for the Offices of the Science Advisor and Research.

Timothy Hurt, Curriculum and Professional Development Specialist
Timothy Hurt joined SEPUP full-time in 2015. He has worked at the Lawrence Hall of Science since 2010, his senior year at UC Berkeley as an undergraduate physics student, and he began his career as an informal science educator. Along with facilitating museum experiences and teaching science workshops to students in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, Tim helped develop workshops, museum exhibit pieces, summer camps, and engineering activities for the Lawrence Hall of Science. Tim first collaborated with SEPUP in 2012 to develop hands-on, informal science and engineering curriculum for middle and high school students in Saudi Arabia. He also worked part-time with SEPUP on the development of SEPUP Science Grades 6 – 8 Texas Edition. Currently, Tim is the manager of the SEPUP website.

Sara R. Kolar, Curriculum Specialist
Sara joined the SEPUP team in July 2017. She was an author on three middle school NGSS units for the SEPUP Third Edition: Geological Processes, Solar System and Beyond, and Force and Motion. Prior to joining the SEPUP team, she made major contributions to the design and development of thirteen NGSS-designed science units for the Amplify Science curriculum with the Learning Design Group at the Lawrence Hall of Science. During her time with the Learning Design Group, Sara was also a lead qualitative researcher on an NSF-sponsored project, Design Dimensions. The goal of this collaborative research project was to learn how curriculum developers engage in the design process when creating high-quality science curriculum materials intended for use at scale. Prior to her work in curriculum development and research, Sara taught Earth science, chemistry, and physics for four years at a public high school in Denver, Colorado. Sara earned a Bachelor’s degree in Earth and Planetary Science with a specialization in Geology from the University of California, Berkeley in 2004. She obtained a Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Secondary Science Education from the University of Colorado, Boulder in 2008.