17 April 2008

What Is a "Science Generation"?

A recent summit at the American Museum of Natural History made the case for the support of a "science generation" as a national imperative. The idea was noble enough---how can science education be improved and what is needed to make change happen---but after reading the summary in Education Week, I'm not so sure that the discussion moved things in the right direction. Here's a summary of the major ideas that were proposed:

  • a laptop for every child
  • more college science scholarships, new programs to train science teachers, and more research funding
  • national standards for science
First of all, I'm not convinced that America is ever going to be able to compete with China and India in terms of the science, math, and technology workforce we develop. It has nothing to do with smarts, and everything to do with sheer numbers. This doesn't mean that science isn't an important area for children to engage and for citizens to develop an understanding of---but rather that should be the goal in and of itself.

Secondly, all of the ideas listed above will have absolutely no impact on student achievement in science unless classroom instruction changes. Just because every student has a laptop does not mean that teachers will give up their overhead projectors and whiteboards. Ditto for standards. They are the end, not the means. And all of the scholarship and professional development money in the world will make no difference if that doesn't make permanent changes to they way science in the classroom is currently presented.

I certainly support NSF funding (with significant increases), but if Congress and private business really want to make a difference at the public school classroom level, they need to provide money for strategies and practices that support student learning.


brian said...

Hi, I recently started reading your blog and enjoy it. I am an aspiring science educator and in my current job I have been working with those concerned with the issues raised in your post.

I agree that we will never turn out the numbers of STEM workers at China or India, but I think that with improved instruction we can remain competitive by creating students who can conduct meaningful science inquiry leading to new discoveries (which is better than having thousands more scientists who can just plug numbers into formulas or memorize facts).

I think it is critical that NSF and industry support the improvement/reform of science education, but I think they need more input from educators to really find out how best to allocate resources for precisely the reasons you mentioned. It is not only necessary to remain competitive globally, but to properly educate the next generation. The issues our nation faces are increasingly problems that can only be understood and solved with a knowledge of science.

The Science Goddess said...

I agree that science will be key to solving many future issues.

Welcome to the profession!

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Didn't we get all excited about falling behind in science and math when the Soviets put up Sputnik?

Let's see, that was roughly 51 years ago.

Ummm, given the current situation, how'd we do with that program? ;)