Monday, March 23, 2009

The prognosis for science education

We both were judges for the Pennsylvania high school science competition today. We have done this before, and it's a way to take the pulse of American science education. The diagnosis is not so good. The patient is not that far from needing life support. Not many students were involved, even in a big state. They were trying hard, in interesting projects by and large, but many showed a lack of rigorous study design understanding, and many were clearly set up by parents or teachers....or by fancy summer jobs their parents were able to arrange for them, in which they did something they clearly didn't understand very well. Even parental help is OK if our objective is to improve American science, starting at an early age. But many are being left behind; for example, there were no underserved minority students in our sessions.

On the slightly brighter side is that one person among the judges had a BS degree in molecular biology, and is training to become a teacher. Three cheers for her! Let there be more. Also, the organizer is a Dr Dave Kleindienst, who has been dedicating his energies to supporting student science for decades. Every community has one or two of people like him, but what this country needs is a hundred times as many. So, let's encourage bright people including some of our graduate students, to become science teachers!


anthrobrew said...

I did this last year and had much the same experience. Another interesting aspect was that although the number of participants was small, the number of schools represented was much smaller. Of the 10 or so students in my session, 4 or 5 were from one school. Also, mostly private schools and at least one home-schooler. It seemed that the determining factor was having financial support and a science teacher who encouraged participation, and surprisingly, that did not necessarily seem to equate with them being a good teacher of science.

Anne Buchanan said...

Yes, all true again this year. Perhaps you judged with another student who was there again this year. She said that the home schooler, back this year in engineering not life science, did an amazing project.

It was easy to see that some of the kids really had a passion for what they were doing, so much so that you wished you could sit down and talk with them about it while others had just followed instructions on a kit and you were afraid to ask them a question for fear of embarrassing them greatly. I hadn't realized until yesterday that this whole thing was sponsored by the military, but there was no constraint on projects. They just want to encourage kids to understand science.