5
The Role of Astronomy Education



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium 5 The Role of Astronomy Education

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium INTRODUCTION A challenge facing our country in the new century is to maintain the integrity and vitality of the scientific and technological leadership that the United States has enjoyed in the past 100 years. An essential component of a healthy scientific enterprise is a scientifically literate and well-educated public, and professional scientists have a vital role to play in achieving a world-class system of science education. In the past decade, the growing consensus about the need for rejuvenation of science and mathematics education in our nation’s schools led professional scientists to join with educators in taking a careful look at how science is taught and how teachers are trained to teach science. One result of efforts made by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Education, along with the National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has been the development of national benchmarks and standards for science education. Despite its comparatively small size, the astronomical community has the potential to add significantly to the continuing effort to strengthen science education and improve public science literacy. Astronomical concepts and images have universal appeal, inspiring wonder and resonating uniquely with human questions about our nature and our place in the universe. This widespread interest in astronomy can be tapped not only to increase knowledge and understanding on the part of students and the public alike, but also to illuminate the nature of science, as well as its power and limitations in shaping our future. Moreover, the interdisciplinary nature of astronomy and its natural links with technology and instrumentation position the field to contribute significantly to building a strong technical work force for the 21st century. Astronomers are keenly aware of the generous support provided by the public through the federal science agencies, and they understandably wish to contribute to the society that supports their research activities. Education and public outreach provide means to do so. The astronomical community’s mobilization on the education front has begun with major educational initiatives undertaken by NASA’s Office of Space Science, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and the American Astronomical Society, and astronomers are participating actively in educational opportunities offered by the NSF. For example, Project ASTRO of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific brings professional astronomers and teachers together in workshops to learn hands-on,

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium inquiry-based techniques for teaching science (Figure 5.1). Project ASTRO was begun with NSF support. Full realization of the astronomical community’s potential to advance science education requires a clearly envisioned mission and goals, coupled with a focused and coordinated set of high-leverage investments designed to maximize astronomers’ contributions to all levels of science education. To this end, the committee describes the educational mission for the astronomical community as the pursuit of four broad goals: To disseminate astronomical discoveries widely, and thus bring the excitement inherent in science to the American public. To use the excitement that astronomy engenders to increase public understanding of science and scientific methods and to make clear that science is a pathway to discovery, not just a collection of facts. This must be done at both the K-12 level and the undergraduate level. To capitalize on the close involvement of astronomy with technology and instrumentation to contribute to training the technical work force. FIGURE 5.1 Teachers learn about the properties of light and color at a Project ASTRO workshop conducted by the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. Partnered astronomers and teachers are trained together at 2-day workshops and then develop an individualized educational program for the teacher’s class. Photograph courtesy of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, R. Havlen.

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium To prepare future generations of professionals who will sustain U.S. preeminence in astronomy and will contribute to a scientifically literate nation. Laying out strategies to achieve these educational goals and then describing existing programs and future directions, this chapter follows closely the report prepared by the Panel on Astronomy Education and Policy. STRATEGIES TO ACHIEVE THE FOUR EDUCATIONAL GOALS COMMUNICATE DISCOVERIES AND EXCITEMENT OF SCIENCE Astronomical discoveries captivate the human imagination by connecting to deep and long-standing questions about our origins and the nature of the universe in which we live. Awareness of the vastness of the universe, the extraordinary forms that other worlds can assume, and the place of our home planet in space and time inspires wonder in people of all ages. With the exception of medicine, no other scientific discipline has seen its new accomplishments featured so often on the front pages of national newspapers and the covers of national magazines. Moreover, astronomy has become the focus of an array of publications dedicated to amateurs and students. Astronomy’s natural appeal and popularity in fact underscore professional astronomers’ important responsibilities in seeking to ensure that the public is kept abreast of the latest advances and can appreciate their relevance within the larger context of natural science. At the heart of enhancing public awareness of and appreciation for science is effective communication with the general public about discoveries made in the research community. Responsibilities for broad dissemination of new knowledge in astronomy are shared by the agencies that support research and by scientific and academic institutions, professional organizations, and individual astronomers. Cogent accounting of the benefits of the public’s investment in major NASA space-based and NSF ground-based astronomy facilities is particularly important (Chapter 4 briefly discusses many of these benefits). Tremendous public

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium interest in the scientific accomplishments of NASA’s space missions has been sustained and complemented by imaginatively publicized and broadly distributed news of these achievements. The committee believes that enhanced public awareness of the equally notable achievements of NSF-funded science from optical, infrared, and radio astronomy ground-based facilities is essential. The importance of broad visibility is clear in an era when all avenues of federal spending are scrutinized by a fiscally responsible Congress. The committee recommends that the National Science Foundation invest in advancing broad understanding and appreciation of science by improving public recognition of the achievements of NSF-funded science and facilities, with initial emphasis on subjects with wide public appeal, such as astronomy. Better communication with the public would require that the NSF establish a direct interface with the media by appointing several dedicated press officers who would stay in close communication with NSF program officers and individual scientists and would be assured of adequate technical support. In addition, NSF should strengthen its presence on the Internet by developing informative and stimulating Web pages addressed to the public and designed to dramatize the scientific achievements sponsored by the NSF. The effort to communicate more effectively should also include increased investments in state-of-the-art displays at centers and facilities supported by the NSF. Sophisticated Web pages dedicated to informing the public of the scientific discoveries made at these facilities must be maintained, and outreach into the local communities should be supported. Centers of informal science education offer another important means of communicating science to the public. There is a need to promote and strengthen communication between professional scientists and the planetariums, museums, and science centers visited by people of all interests and ages (see Figure 4.1 in Chapter 4). In the past decade several of the nation’s leading planetariums took major steps to improve their interaction with professional astronomers and hired a small staff of research scientists. Most museums and planetariums, however, currently lack the scientific expertise to inform their visitors succinctly about advances in modern astronomy. At the same time, most scientists find it difficult to tune their knowledge to the diverse backgrounds and range of experience represented by the many visitors to such centers. Cooperative

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium efforts are thus essential to realize the maximum potential of science museums. The committee notes that some important steps in this direction have been taken by the Informal Science Education program at the NSF and by NASA’s Office of Space Science (OSS) Educational Ecosystem initiative, as well as by some museums. “Project ASTRO is a national program to help improve the teaching of astronomy and physical science in general in 4th through 9th grade classrooms (and youth groups). The main focus of the project is on hands-on, inquiry-based activities that put students in the position of acting like scientists as they come to understand more about the universe (and science in general). Professional or amateur astronomers are linked with local teachers or youth group leaders, and ‘adopt’ a classroom or community group, visiting 4 to 10 times per year.” —Excerpted from the Project ASTRO Web site at <www.aspsky.org/project_astro.html>. The committee recommends stimulating and enhancing interactions between science education institutions and the research community. Expanded federal support would enable more robust programs to be developed. In particular, the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) could take a lead role in sponsoring workshops for museum staff led by scientists and educators, helping the staff to develop displays and to disseminate informative images and interactive software to the nation’s science centers. Professional organizations, academic departments, and individual astronomers all need to be active in communicating scientific discoveries to the public. The AAS and the ASP have done an outstanding job for the astronomical community in this arena, through press releases, publications, and workshops for teachers. There remains, however, a need for both academic departments and individual astronomers to strengthen their commitment to communicating the excitement inherent in astronomy to their local communities. The committee urges all astronomy departments to invest in this important enterprise at a level commensurate with their size. The AAS can play a coordinating role, sharing examples of activities led by departments and individual astronomers that have proved particularly effective in sparking excitement about science in local communities. The AAS already maintains an astronomy education database and is currently investigating the possibility of developing a journal for astronomy education. The committee also urges all graduate departments involved in astronomy and astrophysics to encourage their students to gain experience in public outreach, to ensure that future generations of astronomers develop a sense of responsibility for contributing to the public’s understanding of science.

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium EXPAND OUTREACH TO K-12 STUDENTS The nation is undergoing a crisis in K-12 science education, but astronomy, although it holds great fascination for young people, plays a comparatively small role in the formal K-12 curriculum. Indeed, in recent decades its role has diminished as a result of curricular reforms. To reverse this trend, the astronomical community must take a proactive role to ensure that the educational advantages of using astronomy as a gateway into science are not abandoned by the K-12 community. While the astronomical community is eager to play a role in K-12 outreach, it still has much to learn about identifying the most effective, highly leveraged ways for scientists to contribute. The committee recommends expanding and improving the engagement of astronomers in outreach to the K-12 community by ensuring (1) appropriate incentives for their involvement, (2) training and coordination for effective and high-leverage impact, and (3) recognition of the value of this work by the scientific community. To date, some of the best efforts in K-12 outreach by astronomers have been in developing age-appropriate, astronomy-based educational materials in partnership with educators. Some of these efforts have been led by dedicated individuals, and others are coupled directly to NASA space missions and facilities (see Figure 5.2). Development of curricular materials that will convey a good understanding of basic scientific concepts is an important first step, and there is certainly a need for additional effort in this direction. Far more difficult tasks are (1) finding the best way to ensure that excellent materials are widely disseminated and adopted, and that teachers know how to use them, and (2) educating astronomers who are eager to reach out to their local communities so they can make the most effective use of their time. Both include the goal of preventing astronomers and educators from unnecessarily duplicating past efforts and thus “reinventing the wheel.” The first of these formidable tasks is being tackled by NASA’s OSS Educational Ecosystem initiative, one of the most ambitious educational programs involving the astronomical community. The goals of this program are excellent—to foster a wide variety of highly leveraged education and public outreach activities and to disseminate them in school systems across the country. Because this program is still ramping up, its success has not yet been demonstrated. To ensure maximum

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium FIGURE 5.2 New York City junior high and high school students assembled in the Hall of Meteorites of the American Museum of Natural History for a live Public Broadcasting System program during the Mars Pathfinder landing in the summer of 1997. A network of museums across the country were connected live to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the event. Photograph courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History Library. benefit for all communities, programs of this magnitude must be subjected to careful scrutiny by both scientists and educators. The committee recommends an external review of NASA’s Office of Space Science Educational Ecosystem program early in the decade by both educators and astronomers, using assessment standards agreed to by both groups. Professional societies can play an important coordinating role in assisting astronomers who wish to contribute to education and outreach. The committee recommends that the American Astronomical Society, in cooperation with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, play a lead role in aggressively searching for

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium exceptionally effective K-12 outreach programs, and then work to see them adopted widely by members of the astronomical community interested in pursuing outreach activities. Most funding opportunities for involvement of professional scientists in K-12 outreach programs are limited to seeding new initiatives. At the same time, a growing number of programs are recognized as highly successful, but no opportunities exist for extending them beyond the initial funding period. The insistence on innovation as a major criterion for funding educational projects is shortsighted, and funding agencies should take the lead in coordinating the efforts of federal, state, and local agencies to ensure the preservation of successful programs. The committee recommends that federal agencies explore mechanisms to leverage federal funds to provide long-term support for successful outreach programs in science education. IMPROVE SCIENCE LITERACY FOR UNDERGRADUATES The considerable public interest in astronomy provides an invaluable opportunity to go beyond simply informing and exciting the public about the latest scientific discoveries. Imaginative use of astronomical imagery and phenomena can provide a gateway to increase scientific understanding, by clarifying how nature behaves and how the scientific method leads us to develop models of this behavior and then subject these models to rigorous tests. While well-designed public Web sites can contribute to progress in this arena, conveying a true understanding of science requires more formal educational settings. The AAS’s Education Office and the ASP have undertaken ambitious programs, including training new faculty and holding periodic workshops for college teachers, to engage their members in efforts to improve formal science education both at the college level and through outreach to the K-12 community. These programs require further support. At the college level, where many professional astronomers are actively engaged in education, astronomy is one of the most popular science electives, with more than 200,000 students per year enrolled in introductory classes. For many college students, astronomy is their only encounter with a natural science (Figure 5.3). And, given its interdisciplinary links with other fields including physics, mathematics, and geology,

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium FIGURE 5.3 Two undergraduate students on the Williams College expedition to Rimnicu Vilcea, Romania, for the August 11, 1999, total solar eclipse. They are adjusting a 14-inch telescope for an experiment to detect coronal oscillations during the phase of totality. The expedition was supported in part by grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, and the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. Photograph courtesy of J. Pasachoff (Williams College). astronomy is a particularly appropriate vehicle for teaching science to a wide audience. By many measures, astronomy plays a very positive role in general science education at the college level and clearly attracts many students. However, there is a growing awareness that the traditional lecture format coupled with a broad survey of astronomical topics has limited pedagogical success. A national dialog focused on the effectiveness of this popular survey course would allow astronomers from a wide range of institutions to evaluate whether their current practices are the best way to teach science to general college audiences.

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium The committee recommends that the American Astronomical Society and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific cooperatively conduct a national examination of effective ways to improve the understanding of fundamental scientific concepts delivered in popular introductory astronomy classes. One of the most important college audiences that can be reached with introductory astronomy classes is America’s future elementary and high school teachers. These are the people who will soon be teaching science to the nation’s children, and their experience with science in college is of paramount concern. Indeed, it is only by working closely with this audience that we can expect to achieve long-term systemic reform in K-12 science education. The NSF’s Education and Human Resources Directorate has recognized this need and sponsors a program designed to involve scientists and education departments collaboratively in improving teacher preparation in science. The subject of astronomy is particularly well suited to form the basis for exposing preservice teachers to interactive inquiry-based teaching. When introductory astronomy courses are designed, special consideration should be given to the particular kinds of science teaching skills needed by the nation’s future teachers. In some universities, partnerships between departments of education and departments of astronomy have begun to explore how scientists can become more closely involved in the training of the nation’s teachers; the committee applauds these efforts. The committee recommends that more universities with both astronomy and education departments establish pilot partnerships to bring scientists, educators, and experienced teachers together to design exemplary astronomy-based science courses for teachers in training (preservice) with the goal of contributing to long-term systemic reform in K-12 science education. A more limited, but still important, college audience is students in schools of journalism. Collaborative efforts between astronomers and journalism programs would also be an investment in the future. The goal of courses directed toward this audience might differ from the goal of those for future teachers and could be considered in the context of a national dialog on introductory undergraduate courses. Both in and out of the college classroom, extensive and effective use of computing technology can enhance understanding of basic science.

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium The simple beauty of many astronomical images makes them particularly effective in attracting attention to an astronomical discovery, which can then be used to clarify basic scientific principles. Computers offer a powerful laboratory instrument for this instruction, given their ability to offer interactive exercises requiring independent reasoning and opportunities for manipulating data or physical variables that allow students to make discoveries for themselves. The committee recommends aggressive investment in the development of innovative curricular materials for science education, with emphasis on data-driven interactive Web-based modules. A particularly fruitful area for educational software is the development of simple data-reduction tools and packaged exercises that will allow students to access and make insightful measurements from astronomical survey data. Interactive software running on an Internet browser employing standard tools such as Java could allow the user to make measurements of size, brightness, and color from astronomical survey images. From this experience, students can learn about classification, quantification, and experimentation and can experience the thrill and excitement of scientific discovery. There are many other possibilities in a field with the rich image-based heritage of astronomy. To ensure the pedagogical effectiveness of interactive software modules, it will be necessary to include an educator on each development team. CONTRIBUTE TO A TECHNICALLY TRAINED WORK FORCE Traditionally, many graduate departments in astronomy have focused their programs on careers centered on research, sometimes instilling in their students, consciously or not, a sense that alternate careers are less desirable and even carry a connotation of “failure.” However, longitudinal studies conducted by the National Research Council’s Office of Scientific and Engineering Personnel demonstrate that for several decades only about half of Ph.D. astronomers have ended up in positions where they identify themselves as being engaged primarily in research. However, nearly all recipients of the Ph.D. in astronomy are employed in science and engineering fields, with about 10 percent holding positions in industry (AAS, 1997). It is difficult to anticipate whether these relatively stable long-term

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium trends will continue, but there are two facts that must inform and guide astronomy graduate programs. One is that a Ph.D. in astronomy provides a versatile advanced degree in science, and the astronomical community needs to take more responsibility for ensuring that its students graduate prepared for a range of careers that require creative approaches to solving challenging technical problems. The second is that the total number of students pursuing and acquiring the Ph.D. in astronomy rose steadily during the past decade, reaching a total of 197 in 1997, up almost twofold from levels in the mid-1980s (NSF, 1999a). In a year-long study discussing these issues and culminating in 1997 in The American Astronomical Society’s Examination of Graduate Education in Astronomy, the community agreed that graduate education in astronomy should focus primarily on producing first-rate research scientists (AAS, 1997). Considerable support was also voiced, however, for broadening academic options that could lead to multiple career trajectories for students. It was also recognized that most graduate faculty are largely unaware of alternate career pathways that are available for students with training in astrophysics, and that these need to be identified. Employment in industry is a career option that astronomers have exploited only rarely. There is a demand in industry for professionals who have broad training in basic astrophysics, but not the specialized knowledge associated with the research-based Ph.D. Some schools report that Ph.D. graduates encounter difficulty in marketing themselves to employers in industry, who seek a skill set that includes facility in project and database management, computational analysis, technical writing, and effective collaboration. In fact these skills are also required of successful professional astronomers, and departments need to identify ways to impart them more directly in their graduate curricula. The committee supports the recommendations of the 1997 AAS study. The committee recommends that graduate programs in astronomy ensure that their students have the opportunity to acquire a broad range of technical skills that will enable them to pursue multiple career trajectories. The committee encourages some schools to develop enhanced or professional master’s degree programs with applied astronomical connections, including instrumentation, computation, and education. For example, a professional master’s program in applied astrophysics in cooperation with a local industry could provide a solid way to offer additional career choices. In addition, graduate departments should

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium enable their students to make informed decisions about their career options by maintaining open records of statistics on employment and career paths for their Ph.D. and master’s degree recipients. Astronomy serves a national need, since it is the most effective of all the physical sciences in attracting students at all levels to a career in science and technology. The claim that astrophysics is a useful science does not end at the inlet of the pipeline. Surveys have shown that roughly half of those who earn Ph.D.s in astronomy and astrophysics take positions in other challenging fields. For example the computer industry, which is perennially short of qualified workers, values astronomers’ and astrophysicists’ expertise in and intensive experience with using computers. For similar reasons, graduates in astrophysics are attractive candidates for positions in financial engineering and econometrics, fields that emphasize highly mathematical and quantitative approaches to problem solving. Astronomers and astronomical image-processing techniques are an important resource for federal intelligence agencies concerned with national security. And the special-effects departments of the motion picture industry also borrow heavily from astronomy imagery and personnel. Directly and indirectly, astronomers and astrophysicists contribute to the national economy in far greater proportion than their numbers might at first glance suggest. A Graduate Assistance in Areas of National Need (GAANN) fellowship program in astronomy and astrophysics would be an excellent way for the nation to invest in a brighter economic future. The committee recommends the inclusion of astronomy and astrophysics as a priority field for the GAANN fellowship program in the Department of Education. Issues regarding the training of a technically able work force may be even more relevant at the undergraduate level, where the interdisciplinary nature of astronomy could be more widely used to attract and prepare students for a wide range of scientific and technical careers. In fact, undergraduate programs in astronomy are not very common; fewer than 200 astronomy majors graduate nationally each year (AIP, 2000). The scarcity of undergraduate astronomy programs is probably due to the widespread feeling that future astronomers should major in physics as undergraduates and that concentration on astronomy should be postponed until graduate school. Although this approach serves the goal of training future researchers, it overlooks astronomy’s potential as an undergraduate science major to offer students opportunities for strong

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium connections to other disciplines, such as computer science or geology. In fact, astronomy is unique among the sciences in lacking a well-defined undergraduate curriculum. In contrast, many other scientific disciplines have recently held national discussions of undergraduate curricular reform, sharpening the goals and standards for undergraduate study in their fields. The committee supports the efforts of the American Astronomical Society and the Astronomical Society of the Pacific to conduct national studies of undergraduate programs in astronomy to expand the broad-based technical education of science majors. The committee supports the efforts of these societies to coordinate effective interactions between the scientific and educational communities. The goal of these studies is to achieve community consensus on the desirability of expanding undergraduate programs in astronomy. Can the connection between astronomy and other scientific disciplines and the broad technical base inherent in astronomy and astrophysics provide a rationale for encouraging the growth of undergraduate programs in astronomy? Can such programs open up a wider range of scientific and technical careers for students? PREPARE PROFESSIONAL ASTRONOMERS Revolutionary advances in computing power, detector technology, and the technical sophistication of the new generation of telescopes are changing the face of astronomy. For most of the 20th century, astronomical research at the frontier was carried out by individuals or small teams of scientists. These teams worked with modest data sets or theoretical models. The advent of space observatories and large ground-based telescopes has changed this picture dramatically. Unprecedented requirements for technical support, the need for complex and expensive instrumentation, the growing requirements for comprehensive multiwavelength surveys generating extraordinary quantities of digital data, the availability of unprecedented computing power, and the necessity for multinational collaborations all impose additional responsibilities on the programs that educate tomorrow’s astronomers. The continued success of the astronomical research enterprise requires that the astronomical community work to accomplish the following:

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium Ensure the creation of the next generation of instrumentalists. The coming generation of telescopes will be outfitted with more sophisticated instrumentation than that seen in the past. The design and construction of these multimillion-dollar instruments will necessarily outpace the training of future instrumentalists in traditional Ph.D. programs. Special care must be taken to ensure both that graduate students have the opportunity to work creatively in all phases of instrumentation projects and that much of this work is done in research universities. Establish connections to other disciplines whose members have expertise in computational techniques, data-mining and algorithmic skills, and team and project management. Tomorrow’s astronomers must be skilled in novel ways of manipulating and interpreting the large data sets that will inundate the field as the impending massive surveys are completed. Moreover, as the physical and financial scale of astronomical projects increases, the need for expertise in the design and management of large projects becomes more acute. Establishing links among graduate programs in other scientific or engineering disciplines facing these same issues will help to ensure that astronomy graduate students benefit from an interdisciplinary approach to acquiring these skills. Urge graduate departments (1) to instill a sense of responsibility in their students to contribute to public understanding of science in return for public investment in the research enterprise and (2) to expect their students to pursue careers in which research and education are more integrated than in the past. EXISTING PROGRAMS AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS Since publication of the 1991 survey, The Decade of Discovery in Astronomy and Astrophysics (NRC, 1991), scientists have become much more aware of the steps they can take to improve science education and of the opportunities available to pursue educational initiatives. Position papers such as Science in the National Interest (Executive Office of the President, 1994) sounded a “call to arms” to the scientific community to address science education. Responding to this call, the scientific community has recognized that integrating research and education is the best means of ensuring that our country both maintains world leadership in science and increases the public’s scientific and technical literacy. In astronomy, the response has been dramatic, and scientists are eagerly

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium participating in educational projects that aim to broaden science literacy, ranging from work with the nation’s teachers to innovative curriculum development. The NSF and NASA represent the two main sources of federal funding open to astronomers pursuing educational initiatives. The committee applauds the efforts made by both agencies to energize the scientific community in contributing to the reform of science education. The NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources and NASA’s Office of Space Science have embarked on ambitious and exciting, if somewhat different, paths to enhance interactions between the science and the education communities. These programs are beginning to have a profound impact on science education and are a source of pride for both agencies. Maintaining momentum, however, will require that a number of concerns be addressed in this second decade of continued close connections between astronomical research and education. At the NSF, most opportunities for educational initiatives are designed and administered through the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR), while the majority of astronomers are more closely affiliated with the Astronomical Sciences (AST) Division in the Directorate for Mathematical and Physical Sciences. The opportunities within EHR were developed to address systemic means of improving science education, an essential aspect of NSF’s mission. The majority of astronomers face two significant barriers to participation in NSF-sponsored educational projects. First, a previously defined structure with rigid guidelines leaves little room for submission of proposals conceived by astronomers. Second, the evaluation criteria of the research and education communities differ considerably. The NSF should encourage more cooperation between AST and EHR, with the objective of designing programs that address educational goals specific to astronomy. The NSF should ensure that astronomers as well as educators design and evaluate these programs. NASA provides ample opportunities for astronomers to propose creative educational initiatives. One of the most popular programs, the NASA IDEAS grants, invites submission of a wide variety of educational initiatives from astronomers working in collaboration with educators, with the result that a broad spectrum of ideas flourishes. There is concern, however, that growing emphasis at OSS on strongly encouraging inclusion of an education and public outreach supplement in all research proposals may be misguided enthusiasm. A forced connection between research and outreach at the level of individual principal investigators

OCR for page 159
Astronomy and Astrophysics in the New Millennium can result in less than optimal results in both areas. Excellence in either research or education requires a significant commitment of time, and the principal investigator of a major research project may not be in a position to contribute to educational goals during the time period of the project. Moreover, without better agreement on what constitutes success in educational and public outreach endeavors, and better dissemination of positive results, there is a danger that even the most ardent astronomer may not make a lasting contribution through his or her educational initiative. The committee urges greater communication between the federal agencies charged with increasing the participation of professional scientists in educational initiatives and with ensuring a healthy integration of research and education. A common set of goals, with a clearly articulated vision of how professional astronomers can make the most effective contribution to improving public science literacy, is needed. The goals, the clearly defined pathways for achieving them, and the standards for measuring success must be agreed on by both astronomers and educators. It is necessary in this decade to sharpen our understanding of what constitutes success in educational projects in astronomy, particularly the major ones. For large programs, such as NASA’s OSS Educational Ecosystem initiative, it is essential that both the research and the education communities participate in evaluating projects and that, for those deemed successful, the outcomes be recognized by both communities as significant. Moreover, the elements of an educational initiative that have made it successful should be widely understood and emulated, and less successful efforts should also be publicized so that we can learn from past failures. Finally, as a necessary step toward fostering a healthy climate in which both research and education efforts flourish and work synergistically, the astronomical community should encourage the leaders of academic institutions and federal laboratories to adopt a broadened reward structure for their staffs. This reward structure should explicitly acknowledge the importance of integrating research and teaching by recognizing the pursuit of high-quality educational initiatives along with excellence in research.