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Materials in a New Era: Proceedings of the 1999 Solid State Sciences Committee Forum
and education. In addition, 4 of the 24 Science and Technology Centers that are sponsored by the NSF are administered through the Division of Materials Research. Finally, a number of NSF-sponsored Engineering Research Centers also do materials-related research.
It is clear, when one looks at the state of education generally, as well as materials education specifically, from the earliest grades up through college and graduate school, that the precollege level requires the most attention. Elementary, middle, and high schools constitute the foundation of our educational system. Statistics show that as students progress through these grades, their proficiency scores on science tests drop dramatically. Fourth graders in the United States, for instance, scored an average of 565 out of 600 points on a science proficiency test, whereas 12th graders earned only 461 points. Additionally, U.S. students perform less competitively as they progress in school. Although the 4th graders placed second only to Japanese 4th graders, the 12th graders trailed students from all other countries in the study.
In light of such findings, we can see that high school in particular is a crucial time for science education. Many high school students lose interest and then find themselves ill-prepared to face the rigors of college-level science courses. Why does this happen? Is there a big difference in the approaches to education, and in particular science education, between high school and college? Can we hold students ' insufficient preparation in high school responsible for the high dropout rate among college students? Most importantly, how can materials science education help to bridge this gap between high school and college, particularly in science and engineering?
All materials education initiatives must undertake to:
Foster greater awareness of the importance of MSE in society and among the general public;
Introduce materials science and technology at the precollege level to enhance mathematics and science education; and
Get teachers involved in materials science education and research.
Many universities and centers have embarked on worthy initiatives to reach these goals. Northwestern University has programs for precollege materials science and technology education, for undergraduates (especially minority students) who are interested in materials science and engineering, and for professional development/teacher training.
The desire to provide teachers with the tools to spark their students ' interest in science, mathematics, and technology, along with the wish to link university research to precollege education, led to the creation of the Materials World Modules (MWM). Developed with the support of a grant from the National Science Foundation, the Materials World Modules are handson, inquiry-based modules that focus on various topics in materials science. The modules have been designed to supplement middle and high school science, mathematics, and technology courses. Each module begins with a teacher demonstration that piques the students' interest. Next, students complete a series of inquiry-based activities, simulating the work that scientists do. Finally, each module culminates in two design challenges, where students simulate the work of engineers.
Materials World Modules is a total materials educational program that also offers services such as workshops for teachers, an interactive CD-ROM, and a Web site where teachers can access help and resources on line. To date, MWM has been introduced in 450 schools nationwide and used by approximately 9,000 students and 450 teachers. At 16 hub sites in 14 states, teachers have been trained in MWM workshops. The next step for the Materials World Modules program will be MWM-2002, a delivery system via the Internet that will enable teachers to order and purchase customized modules on line and to receive teaching development and support services via an interactive Web site.
In addition to the Materials World Modules program, Northwestern University has recently embarked on a collaborative effort with the Intel corporation to promote student participation in science fairs at seven sites in six states. This “Winning with Inquiry” initiative will involve the use of Materials World Modules, introducing students to materials science and technology.
At the college level, Northwestern offers the Research Experience for Undergraduates and Minority Students Programs. Begun in 1986, these programs provide the opportunity for undergraduates from schools across the country to participate in research at Northwestern. These programs encourage promising undergraduates to pursue graduate studies in MSE by enabling them to experience interdisciplinary materials research under the direction of faculty advisors.
Northwestern's Research Experience for Science Teachers allows high school teachers, and some college professors as well, to work with university professors during the summer on research projects related