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IMPROVING SCIENTIFIC INFRASTRUCTURE IN NEW JERSEY.

MICHAEL J. KENNISH [1]

JAMES R. MILLER [1]

PATRICIA MILLER [2]

ABSTRACT: The quality of science education programs in any state or country depends on the strength of its scientific infrastructure. That premise led the New Jersey Academy of Science (NJAS) to organize and host in October, 2000, a "Conference on Improving Scientific Infrastructure in New Jersey." The primary objectives of the conference were to provide a forum for the educational, industrial, and governmental scientific communities in New Jersey that would allow them to enhance their linkages with each other and that would enable them to work together to improve the scientific infrastructure within the state. Among the questions addressed were: (1) How do the new core curriculum standards foster scientific interest and literacy? (2) How should we deal with future demographic changes in both students and science teachers? (3) How can communication and coordination be improved at all levels and between all the different individuals and groups with vested interests in science education? Although there were no definitive answers to any of these questions at the conference, the participants did begin a meaningful dialogue which is summarized in this paper and which the NJAS is using as the basis for the development of an action plan to increase its involvement in science programs statewide.

KEY WORDS: Science education, teachers, students, linkages, scientific literacy, industry.

INTRODUCTION

"A scientifically literate population is vital to the democratic process, a healthy economy and our quality of life" (Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), 1998). The United States is lagging behind--not leading the world in math and Science achievement--according to TIMSS. As early as the fourth grade, U.S. Students' performance in physical science begins to weaken. By the eighth grade, it is only average. By the twelfth grade, it is poor in comparison to the rest of the world. What happens between the fourth and twelfth grades that erodes the scientific performance of U.S. students relative to the rest of the world?

TIMSS has identified some of the key characteristics of school systems in high performing countries. They include:

* A coherent vision by grade level of what each student should learn, with a focus on a few in-depth, topics in classroom instruction.

* Well-prepared teachers who know their subject, have out-of-class opportunities to develop lessons, and consult regularly with other teachers and resource people.

* Alignment between expectations and rewards for teachers, students and schools.

To what extent are these characteristics present in U.S. schools? Two key problem areas identified in the U. S. include teachers' lack of good scientific content, knowledge, and preparedness, and a muddled and superficial curriculum. Our challenge is to find the most effective means to address these problems and develop the characteristics of the high-performing school systems. This challenge led the New Jersey Academy of Science (NJAS) to host a "Conference on Improving the Scientific Infrastructure in New Jersey" in October, 2000.

CONFERENCE OBJECTIVES

The main objectives of the conference were to provide a forum for the educational, industrial, and governmental scientific communities in New Jersey that would enable them to enhance their linkages and that would allow them to work together to improve the scientific infrastructure of the state. Held at the University Inn and Conference Center at Rutgers University, the conference was attended by approximately 50 people from industry, government, and the K-12 and post secondary education communities. The conference consisted of a panel discussion in the morning, with three invited panelists addressing the audience and responding to their questions. This was followed by breakout sessions and reports from the breakout groups. Some of the questions considered by these groups are given in Appendix I. These questions addressed various topics such as how to attract good teachers to the field, teacher training, curriculum issues, standards, industry workforce needs, and the NJAS role.

In addressing concerns about science education, the conference focused on:

* The K through 12 curriculum in the state.

* Changes in the curriculum.

* Recruitment, development, and retention of science teachers.

* The need for communication among science educators in ALL sectors.

* Coordination of ongoing programs and new programs that are being developed.

* How the NJAS can more effectively contribute to science education.

CONFERENCE RESULTS

Many of the issues discussed at the conference are similar to those addressed in the recent Glenn Commission report (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000). That report provides a more comprehensive treatment of many of these issues. The principal findings of the NJAS conference are related to the following three areas: core curriculum, change, and communication/coordination.

Core curriculum (K-12)

The goals of the core curriculum are to develop scientifically literate citizens for governing the policies and resources of New Jersey, promote positive scientific attitudes and interests, guide educators in designing student competence in scientific fields, lay a firm foundation for future scientific learning, and foster effective communication for information sharing. One major concern is that of multiple standards. There is a hierarchy of standards including federal, state, local, school, and teacher standards that might not always be consistent with each other. At each step along this chain, subtle or perhaps large changes are made until, finally, the teachers provide instruction on the most familiar topics. In the end, the teacher decides what will be covered in the classroom. How can schools integrate these multiple standards to support teachers in providing more consistent high quality science education?

Change

All scientific disciplines at all educational levels must work together to change the way that science is perceived, taught, and understood. In addition, science must be integrated with non-scientific fields. This requires changes in how we will recruit new science teachers, keep present teachers current in scientific fields, integrate science throughout the curriculum, conduct standardized testing, and use new technologies to enhance scientific instruction. Curricula should foster positive science attitudes and interests to produce scientifically literate citizens. While curricula must be standards based, it is unclear how the standards will affect women and minorities who are underrepresented in science. One paradox is that standardized testing may lead to curricula that "teach" toward the tests while reducing innovation and creativity. Another concern is that there are some science teachers with little or no science training. Currently, it is difficult to find science and mathematics teachers in many schoo l districts, and the projections indicate that it will be even harder to hire them in future years. There is a very established bureaucracy that includes teachers' associations, state education groups, school districts, individual schools, school boards, and community groups. To what extent does the existing bureaucracy promote or prevent changes that are needed to the present system, and to what extent does the bureaucracy itself have to be changed?

Communication/coordination

To date there seem to be insufficient mechanisms in place that provide opportunities for science educators and professionals to talk, correspond, exchange ideas, and share information. Communication must be improved, including exchanges among science educators at all levels, between scientists in industry and academia, and among all the different individuals and groups who are presently working to improve science literacy. Industry, in particular, can help educators become aware of new technology which can expose students and teachers to real world applications. More formal arid informal links must be established between all parties with interests and programs aimed toward science education. We must capitalize on the strengths that exist now and try to minimize the time spent duplicating already successful initiatives.

This effort entails working more cooperatively with educators, school systems, and state government agencies to dentify pressing problems and to improve communication and coordination of scientific issues. New ties must be forged between the education and business communities to foster innovative programs that will lead to greater student participation in science and technology initiatives. These programs should focus, in part, on facilitating the interaction of K-12 students and teachers with practicing scientists from industry, government, and academia, who will serve as mentors. Such collaboration -- particularly emphasizing hands-on, inquiry-based instruction -- will promote more interest, excitement, and appreciation for science among elementary and high school students statewide. However, inquiry-based learning in science can be threatening to some teachers because it is less structured and reduces their role as the expert.

ROLE OF THE NJAS

The purpose of the NJAS is to stimulate science education and research statewide. The Academy has a strong mission to help prepare youth for the advanced scientific and technical careers necessary to support New Jersey business and industry. Today, this is accomplished through a number of efforts including the publication of a scholarly journal and newsletter, presentations of scientific research by secondary school students at the NJAS Annual Meeting, and the hosting of other special science events. Many of these activities are similar to those conducted by other state academies of science, a summary of which can be found in a recent study by Hill and Madarash-Hill (2000).

A general consensus of the conference participants is that the NJAS is well positioned to serve the scientific community in New Jersey and should play a more active role in improving the state's scientific infrastructure. Involvement of the NJAS in this endeavor may follow several pathways. For example, through its newsletter, web site, and journal, the NJAS can inform K-12 teachers and curriculum coordinators of professional opportunities, conferences, and other academic programs that will strengthen science skills in the classroom. The NJAS also can serve as a liaison or conduit between industry and K-12 school systems by providing information to schools on industry training programs for teachers as well as internships for students interested in the sciences. In addition, it can facilitate the transfer of equipment and instrument donations from business and industry to the schools. By this process, the NJAS will act as a central agency to coordinate the exchange of human resources (teachers and student int erns) and physical resources (equipment and facilities) between industry and K-12 school systems.

SUMMARY

There are many challenges in trying to improve the scientific infrastructure of New Jersey. The development of a more comprehensive and broader network/linkage between industry, higher education, and K-12 school systems will enhance science education and facilitate the upgrade of the scientific infrastructure in the state. In response to the conference findings, the NJAS has begun to develop an integrated action plan to increase its role in enhancing the scientific infrastructure statewide. The implementation of the plan will begin in the fall of 2001.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

We would like to thank our three panelists who provided insightful comments on science education: Dr. Bruce Marganoff, Dr. Arthur Mitchell, and Dr. Dean Tulshian. These three panelists and Dr. Jay Brandinger also are thanked for serving as leaders of the breakout groups. We are also grateful to our corporate sponsors: American Home Products, Schering-Plough Research Institute, Johnson and Johnson, Lucent Technologies, PSE&G Services Corporation, and BASF Corporation. The NJAS welcomes suggestions from anyone interested in helping to implement its action plan. More information can be found at the NJAS web site (www.njas.org).

[1] INSTITUTE OF MARINE AND COASTAL SCIENCES, RUTGERS UNIVERSITY NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY 08901

[2] HAYMILLER ASSOCIATES HILLSBOROUGH, NEW JERSEY 08844

LITERATURE CITED

HILL, J.B., AND C. MADARASH-HILL. 2000. Publications of the State Academies of Science. Science and Technology Libraries, 19:21-37.

NATIONAL COMMISSION ON MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE TEACHING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY. 2000. Before It s Too Late: A Report to the Nation from the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. U.S. Dept. of Education. Washington, D.C.

THIRD INTERNATIONAL MATHEMATICS AND SCIENCE STUDY. 1998. Failing Our Children: Implications of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study. National Science Board, NSB-98-154.

APPENDIX I

List of discussion questions provided to breakout groups.

(1.) What does industry envision will be the characteristics desired in its future workforce?

(2.) What skills will students need in order to fulfill those requirements and to what extent are they being obtained now?

(3.) What type of linkages should be or can be forged between industry, K-12, and college educators to facilitate the matching of student training with the needs of employers?

(4.) How can more industries be encouraged to provide research experiences and training opportunities for secondary science educators?

(5.) How do we attract talented individuals to become the next generation of teachers?

(6.) How will we train these teachers to prepare students for jobs in science during the 21st century.

(7.) How do we get teachers involved in the research world of science in higher education and industry?

(8.) How can K-12 and college curricula reflect current and best research industry practices?

(9.) How do we align science courses for elementary educators with state and national standards?

(10.) How can the New Jersey Academy of Science contribute answers to the above questions through its Bulletin, annual meeting, and other programs?
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Author:KENNISH, MICHAEL J.; MILLER, JAMES R.; MILLER, PATRICIA
Publication:Bulletin of the New Jersey Academy of Science
Geographic Code:1U2NJ
Date:Mar 22, 2001
Words:2139
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