Christopher L. Mace
Educational Leadership Program
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
In Parade Magazine, a weekly magazine located in America's Sunday Newspaper, Michael Ryan reminds America of the warning issued by the US Department of Education in their report called A Nation at Risk, that education was in trouble, especially science. Ryan questions if schools have heard the wake-up call that caused such a panic fourteen years ago. To address this crisis, the National Science Federation(NSF) developed a series of programs to improve the methods of teaching science.
Since the inception of the NSF programs, there havehas been dramatic improvements in the science curriculum of selected areas at all levels of public education. The number of New York City high school students that have taken a science course has doubled since 1990. Ryan states that more than 50% of all high school students completed chemistry, up from 30% in 1980. To decrease the gender-gap, more females are taking calculus or trigonometry classes.
Even though there have been great accomplishments in the science curriculum, " only twenty-four states and Puerto Rico have applied for funding" from the NSF. Before Carl Sagan, an astrophysicist, passed awaypassed away, he stated that "Science education is still dreadful," and that he witnessed "too many schools where teachers answered students' questions by saying,'It's in the book, look it up,' instead of helping them find the answer" (Ryan,pp.8).
According to Ryan, in order to educate our youth and prepare them for the changes in the world, we need to improve science teaching. To find out about science programs to use in your respective schools, call the National Science Foundation at 1-800-682-2716, or write: Division of Education/ESIE, Dept. P, 4201 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Va. 22230. The NSF website is (www.nsf.gov).
Does science teaching need revamping in public schools? Some schools have already made great strides in teaching science, but as Ryan notesstated, only "24 states have applied for funding" (Ryan, p.8). Phillip Sadler, an assistant professor in the Harvard University Graduate School of Education Professor, discovered that by posing questions to graduates, alumni and some professors at a commencement that only two of the twenty-three people could answer questions regarding the phases of the moon. In addition, Sadler claims that "75% of America cannot pass a basic NSF science quiz" (Ryan, p. 8).
Business leaders also have indicated that America's youth "will not be ready for the workplace that is becoming more dependent on technology." In a survey by the Bayer Foundation in the 1990's, "90% of corporate executives said science literacy is important even at the entry level jobs" (Deitch, as cited in Ryan, p. 8Sande Deitch, executive director of the Bayer Foundation). The need for a knowledge in science will a ssist people in becoming better problem-solvers in the workplace.
Finally, many science programs that have developed for science over the past four decades were in response due to the Cold War and they included only the very best male students. The door to opportunities in the science field needs to be opened to minorities and females so that educators will attract more of the student population to be interested in science.
The biggest areas of change in education that need to be addressed are those that deal with all learning levels of students (what is "all learning levels of students"?), if we as educators are going to transform students into productive, educated citizens, thus improving our society as a whole and one important step is through better methods of teaching science.
Ryan,M. (1997, January 19). Have Our Schools Heard the Wake-up Call? Parade Magazine, pp.8-9.