A Scientist's Role in K-12 Education

Implementation of the national science education standards will require major changes in the educational system. Participation in the reform effort must be multifaceted to reflect the multiple dimensions of the standards, and professional societies and scientists are uniquely qualified to contribute. Scientists can determine their own level and form of participation on the basis of their time and expertise, but every scientist has something to offer. The goal is to ensure that each student is offered an equal opportunity to learn science.

Scientists play an important role as science instructors in university and college classrooms. They also can assist in reform efforts through membership in their professional societies. Scientists could consider becoming involved in the K-12 science classroom. In doing so, scientists will become more connected to their communities, and children will benefit.

College and University Classrooms

The National Science Education Standards recognizes that college and university faculty have a direct influence on changing pedagogical practices in the K-12 classroom. "Most of us in this room are from academic institutions of higher learning where undergraduates are being trained to become our next teachers. It is with these undergraduates that our responsibility for teaching science must lie. Providing future teachers with an understanding of science should not be the responsibility of the colleges of education with expertise largely within the realms of pedagogy and human development." Paul Williams urged scientists to take a more active approach to science education. "These future science teachers need formative experiences found only in your science laboratories and class-



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--> A Scientist's Role in K-12 Education Implementation of the national science education standards will require major changes in the educational system. Participation in the reform effort must be multifaceted to reflect the multiple dimensions of the standards, and professional societies and scientists are uniquely qualified to contribute. Scientists can determine their own level and form of participation on the basis of their time and expertise, but every scientist has something to offer. The goal is to ensure that each student is offered an equal opportunity to learn science. Scientists play an important role as science instructors in university and college classrooms. They also can assist in reform efforts through membership in their professional societies. Scientists could consider becoming involved in the K-12 science classroom. In doing so, scientists will become more connected to their communities, and children will benefit. College and University Classrooms The National Science Education Standards recognizes that college and university faculty have a direct influence on changing pedagogical practices in the K-12 classroom. "Most of us in this room are from academic institutions of higher learning where undergraduates are being trained to become our next teachers. It is with these undergraduates that our responsibility for teaching science must lie. Providing future teachers with an understanding of science should not be the responsibility of the colleges of education with expertise largely within the realms of pedagogy and human development." Paul Williams urged scientists to take a more active approach to science education. "These future science teachers need formative experiences found only in your science laboratories and class-

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--> rooms. These students need to be mentored with particular care and understanding so that when they graduate, they will carry with them the special insights that only you will be able to pass on to them." The National Science Education Standards describe an educational system to achieve a scientifically literate population. They impact student learning outcomes at all levels. At the center is the student target and the science education content category. Assessment can be viewed as a primary feedback mechanism in the science education system that cuts across the educational system hierarchy from the student to national levels. "Science is too often taught as natural history in this country," Paul went on to say. "Natural history is the catalog and narrative of natural phenomena that other people observed and discovered. Our challenge has to be to take what we find exciting and not just treat it as history—don't just tell them who discovered this; let them discover it for themselves, and they will be the possessors and owners and understanders of it. To that end, I actively use the pedagogical stratagem of reserving the right not to answer a good question from a student. But if it's a good question, why won't I answer it? Because good questions lead students and teachers to engage in the process that we call science. And that of course will lead them to another set of questions, which is what science is all about. "Let me suggest that in order for us to better understand how to help teachers engage in science in their classrooms, that we examine doing more science and less natural history in our own undergraduate college and university classrooms. There are now available many resources to assist us in changing the way we teach in our own classes. By improving the ways we teach science in our own classes, we will be making an impact on the way science is taught in K-12 classrooms, because the teachers of the future are among our undergraduate students today." In his concluding remarks, Paul Williams asked scientists to consider the potential impact of students taught in high school under the new standards on university and college classrooms. "It's interesting that we're discussing the national science standards at this conference because indeed they are centered on precollege education. That's appropriate. But do you know from where the tidal wave is going to come? It's going to come from the bottom up. Will we be prepared to readjust the way we teach science at the college level to meet the need of the new generation of high school students trained under the National Science Education Standards? How will we realign what we teach to meet the expectations of these students?" Professional Societies Scientists are getting involved in K-12 reform initiatives through their professional societies. The forum noted that the level of support for these initiatives varies with the mission and size of the societies. For instance, the American

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--> Chemical Society is a broad-based society reaching out to over 130,000 members; others might have fewer than 500 members. In particular, society representatives identified the need for dedicated staff to increase their participation in education-related activities. Participants identified many examples of society activities that focus on K-12 education: summer internship programs for teachers and students; development of lesson plans and choosing textbooks with teachers; summer field programs for high-school students; development of video materials promoting science literacy; writing contests to encourage student involvement in science; scientists serving as consultants or demonstrators to schools; society sponsorship of science fairs; educator participation in professional society meetings; scientist participation in design of curriculum materials. Educators expressed concern that they are unfamiliar with K-12 activities of the professional societies. In some cases, teachers are not sure how to access information from the societies. At the other end of the spectrum, teachers are overwhelmed with offers from scientists. Participants agreed that professional society members should work harder to coordinate their efforts to aid teachers. Forum participants identified the following examples of ways members of professional societies can become involved: Inform their staffs and other societies of the National Science Education Standards. Increase the visibility of K-12 education among their members and at annual society meetings. Invite K-12 educators to society meetings. Obtain joint membership in K-12 educators' societies. Recognize and provide awards to their members for involvement in K-12 education. Recognize that coordinated efforts among disciplines and across societies could enhance their outreach efforts. K-12 Classrooms Most educators recognize that K-12 classrooms are unfamiliar settings for academic scientists. Working in a K-12 classroom will not be easy or appropriate for all scientists. Scientists will need to be properly prepared and trained to work in a K-12 classroom. By working directly with students, scientists can be role models for students and encourage them in science.

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--> Training and professional opportunities are needed for K-12 teachers, as well as for prospective teachers. Although teachers are central to educational reform, they cannot implement the National Science Education Standards without help. Teachers need an understanding of inquiry-based education and continuing opportunities for professional development. Because of their expertise in scientific research, scientists have an opportunity to assist teachers in keeping current on scientific concepts, understanding the investigation process, and practicing solving real problems. Jan Tuomi, director of National Research Council's Regional Initiatives in Science Education Program encouraged scientists to become involved in K-12 education. ''If you want to make a high impact on the quality of K-12 science education, then you've already taken the first step, and you're ready to take the next, which is asking, 'What can I do? How do I get started? What works? What's a good way or a not-so-good way to approach this?'' Scientists might have expectations of what happens in a K-12 classroom based on their own school experiences or what they have experienced in their laboratories. Teachers, on the other hand, can provide a real world perspective that may be unfamiliar to scientists. Some educators at the forum suggested that scientists visit a K-12 science class. By observing, scientists can gain insights to the complexity of the teaching and learning environment. The National Science Education Standards recognizes that children will achieve different degrees of understanding of science, depending on their interests and abilities. Scientists need to be aware of the context in which children are learning and the things going on in their lives. Kathy Scoggin, a Minneapolis teacher, described a real situation: "There are kids that come to school that haven't had breakfast, their mom had breast cancer surgery yesterday, their dad's in jail, two others are homeless, and they're coming from a shelter. That's what it can be like. But school can be a safe haven for them. Despite these problems, kids want to learn and get very excited about science. It's important to understand what the situation is out there today." That situation might cause uneasiness in faculty members who are accustomed to work environments far removed from K-12 classrooms. Michael Klentschy, superintendent of El Centro schools in California, tried to put that fear into perspective. "Just as you feel comfortable working in your research laboratory, our teachers feel comfortable dealing with the social issues connected to teaching and learning. That's where the cooperation between scientist and teacher is really very important, so that we are breaking down barriers that might seem frightening to both of us." Educators at the forum indicated that teachers go into education for many reasons and have varying levels of science in their backgrounds. Kathy Scoggin, for instance, grew up on a farm and developed an early appreciation for science and the natural world. According to Michael Klentschy, many elementary teachers are women who were not encouraged to excel in science when they were in

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--> school or when they were Liberal Arts majors with little exposure to science. Because teachers have different levels of teaching experience, their requirements from the science community will vary. Kathy Scoggin described different ways scientists can interact: "New teachers might have 9-12 units of science and one science-methods class. Scientists can help them by teaching them some basic scientific concepts. Honestly, these new teachers are trying to figure out very basic skills like how to get students to stay seated. The second group [is composed of] teachers who have between 5 and 20 years of experience. Many have built a strong base of scientific knowledge over the years and they are well versed in pedagogy. Scientists can be of help by showing these teachers how to incorporate the National Science Education Standards into their teaching practices. Finally, there are those teachers who are going to retire in the next 5 years. Scientists should try to motivate these teachers by showing them new things that can make their final years of teaching really productive." There are many ways scientists can become involved in improving science education in K-12 classrooms. Some suggestions are listed below: Serve as a resource for course content for teachers. Collaboratively rethink science fairs and classroom assessment. Provide extra hands in classroom demonstrations. Connect the teacher to the world of professional science. Communicate your excitement about science. Consistently model science as inquiry. Foster collegial interactions with educators.