Tuesday, August 28, 2007

More evidence for supporting girls in science and engineering

The National Science Foundation issued a "back-to-school" press release yesterday urging educators to be vigilant in keeping girls interested in science. It presents five "myths" about efforts to close the gender gap. Interestingly, when I have posted items about girls in the past, I have had some responses warning not to forget the boys. This NSF statement specifically addresses that - evidence shows that programs targeting girls work for boys as well.

There are also two new resources on this topic: New Formulas for America's Workforce 2 is a compilation of awards given by the Research on Gender in Science and Engineering program in the past 5 years. (Older awards are compiled in the prior volume.) New Tools for America's Workforce compiles products that have been developed by the NSF-funded projects that can be used by others.

Link to Press Release | MSNBC Story

Friday, August 17, 2007

More Summer Science for Girls

In case you thought toy recalls and stock market crashes were the only stories getting consistent attention this summer, here is yet another story about girls learning science and technology in summer camps. I have already posted on this twice: Aug 3 and July 26, not to mention numerous previous posts on programs that specifically address gender and equity.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Fewer Extra-curricular Offerings for Urban Students

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that students in urban Milwaukee high schools have significantly fewer after-school options compared to their peers in suburban schools. The article points to academic pressures from NCLB, but I expect we could all come up with other reasons as well. Students who have to work after school to pay bills, teachers who don't live in the neighborhood, and limited facilities are among a few that I would suggest.

The consequences of these differences are more than just less fun for kids at urban schools. There is less connection to the school when you are only there for classes. There are fewer opportunities to explore career options and non-academic interests.

Options for addressing these problems vary. Connecting community-based organizations (such as Boys and Girls Clubs) can help with staff and facilities. It may even be appropriate to look at options to pay students to participate in clubs. Often high school clubs can provide services for younger students, e.g., a FIRST robotics team mentors a Lego League team, and the students could be paid for these.

Extra-curriculars are critically important for youth development. A minimum score on the SAT or ACT is not sufficient preparation for college - students have to have passions, whether they are artistic, scientific, service-oriented, etc.

Link to article

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Less Time for Science (and Other Subjects)

A recent report confirms what most of us already know, the accountability provisions in No Child Left Behind have led schools to decrease the amount of time they spend on non-tested subjects. The Center on Education Policy found that elementary schools decreased time spent on science an average of 75 minutes per week. That time is being reallocated to math and literacy, the core subjects that are assessed by states.

An article by Jay Mathews in the Washington Post presents both sides of this issue rather effectively. It seems to come down to:
1) If you can't read or do math, you won't be able to handle the other subjects.
2) If you only learn reading and math out of context, then you can't handle the richer vocabulary, higher-order concepts, etc.

With the new test in science arriving, schools are going to have to make more hard choices. The CEP report clearly shows that schools are unlikely to extend the day - only 9% have done so, and then only an average of 18 minutes. This leaves a few options:
- Integrate science and other subjects into literacy and math, and vice versa. Learning should be done in context whenever possible.
- Utilize after-school and out-of-school time programs to build student interest in science, art, music, and other subjects to improve their all-around engagement in school.
- Obtain a national supply of Hermione Granger's time-turners so students can take several classes at the same time!

Unless someone has a lead on the third option, I suggest we really get to work on the first two. Accountability and assessment are important, and reading and math are critically important. So, if we want our youth to find engagement in subjects that are critical to being productive adults, we are going to need more time and better ways to include those subjects in the learning day.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Science All Around Us - More Apparent in Rural Environs?

The Status of Education in Rural America, published by the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, provides some interesting findings about academic performance in rural areas. Rural students outperform their urban counterparts in math and reading at almost every level, and the difference in science was particularly noteworthy. Rural fourth graders scored higher than all other subgroups, including suburban. Rural 8th and 12th graders do much better than those in urban areas.

It seems likely that rural students have more practical experience with science. Some may work on family farms, while others may just have more opportunities to see the woods or the stars.

Urban schools are working hard to connect kids to real-world science and nature. There are programs like the Growing Connection, which uses the EarthBox to allow students to grow crops in all settings, and Urban Bird Studies, which includes students in a real "citizen science" research project on bird life in the city.

There is obviously just as much "science" around the city as there is in the country. We just have to be deliberate about helping kids connect to the environment around them.

Link to report | Link to article about the report

Friday, August 03, 2007

Students & Teachers Learn Science & Tech in the Summer

Here are two interesting articles about summer learning in science and technology. One is about an inventor's camp where youth learn the design process. The other is about a special education teacher who went to Space Academy and brought those lessons back to her classroom.

For more about summer programs, visit the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Science Songs Win Award

Coalition for Science After School member The Health Adventure, from Asheville, NC, has received an award for their new CD, Momentum: Songs about Science. Congrats to them!
Link to their press release: HTML | PDF