APS News

TSAI Program Winds Up Successful Seven-Year Run

Ted Schultz, right, makes a point to Wolf Berger at one of the TSA Institutes
Ted Schultz, right, makes a point to Wolf Berger at one of the TSA Institutes. (Edward Lee/APS)

Carrying the Torch of Education Reform

Ted Schultz, who heads the APS TSAI program, first developed an interest in science education in the 1960s, early in his 32-year tenure as a theoretical physicist at IBM's Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, NY. For two years, along with seven other IBM colleagues, he taught truly abstract mathematics to third, fourth and fifth graders through a program originating in Berkeley, California. In the 1990s, now working in a largely administrative position at IBM, Schultz decided he wanted to do something more "socially relevant," and immediately thought of science education. "At first, I thought it would have to be mathematics again, because mathematical worlds or systems can be constructed in which kids can meaningfully learn to discover their properties. In science, the world is already there and its complicated properties seemed too difficult for kids to discover. Then I found out there was an entire movement in science education to get kids to learn about the real world by actually investigating it, by doing experiments, asking questions and so on," he said, "and I was sold."

Schultz retired from IBM and found a position at the National Science Resources Center (NSRC), a joint enterprise of the Smithsonian Institute and the National Academy of Sciences based in Washington, DC, where he met Ramon Lopez. When Schultz's NSRC project ended, he moved half time to the National Research Council, researching the ways scientists have become involved in science education, and half time to the APS to assist Lopez in the TSAI program. Later, Schultz joined the APS full-time and three years later, when Lopez left the APS, he took over the TSAI directorship.

Schultz had hoped to raise new funds to continue the TSAI program once the NSF grant funds ran out, but health problems have intervened. One last leadership institute is planned for January 2002. "I may be quixotic, but I'm hoping to introduce this institute to a number of other scientific societies, and to demonstrate its successes, so that the baton will be picked up and a program to involve scientists in science education will continue and improve."

Schultz and Lopez co-authored an article entitled "Two Revolutions in K-8 Science Education" in the September, 2001 issue of Physics Today.

arly next year, the APS will close a seven-year chapter in the Society's ongoing efforts in education reform when the Teacher-Scientist Alliance Institutes (TSAI) program concludes. TSAI is a comprehensive initiative designed to promote the systemic reform of K-8 science education from the traditional, lecture-oriented methodology to a hands-on, inquiry-centered approach. The program has provided institutes, workshops, and other support for educators and scientists throughout the country, all of which have been free of charge to participants.

"In the last ten years, a broad consensus has developed in the U.S. as to what science education should be. In meeting the goals of the new consensus, the APS believes that the involvement of scientists is of great value, even essential," says Ted Schultz, assistant director for education and director of the TSAI program. "For example, the differences between reading about science and doing science, and the increase in demands the latter makes on teachers, instructional materials, and school systems, are profound."

The TSAI program was formed to get scientists and other technical professionals involved in support of hands-on, inquiry-centered science education programs in their local school districts. It was established in 1995 by Ramon Lopez, then director of the APS Education and Outreach Department, initially with funds from the APS/AAPT Campaign for Physics and later with an NSF grant to support its continued efforts. Initially aimed at the reform of elementary school science education, the program was eventually expanded to include middle schools.

Since its inception, a principal aspect of the program has been the annual Lead Scientist Institutes (LSIs), five-day events held in Washington, DC, to prepare participants to support the science education programs in their areas. These institutes have provided an intensive introduction to the basic issues of science education reform. Applicants are usually accepted in teams of two or three from school districts already involved in systemic reform, teams comprising scientists, engineers or other technical professionals with a demonstrated commitment to improving science education, as well as one or sometimes two educators to help integrate scientists into reform efforts.

In addition, TSAI has conducted Regional Leadership Institutes in New England, the Southeast, San Diego, and Texas, as well as a three-day version in Atlanta in 1999, as part of the APS Centennial celebration. At the request of individual school districts, TSAI-trained scientists have also helped conduct one-day workshops to recruit other scientists to the education reform efforts underway, or half-day workshops for leaders in the local education and business communities and parents. "The aim is to try to convey the value and excitement of a hands-on, inquiry-centered science program," says Schultz. "By all indications, these workshops have been very effective in building both community and administrative understanding, enthusiasm, and support."

A 2000 report by the Institute for Learning Innovation, based in Annapolis, MD, evaluated the impact of the TSAI program to date, and found that the participants surveyed were overwhelmingly complimentary and appreciative of the program's impact in their districts, believing they had made substantial progress in their reform efforts. While recognizing that much work remained to be done, the report noted, "The scope of change advocated by TSAI is broad and systemic. Real sustainable change takes time and over the last four years, TSAI has planted important and thriving science education reform seeds," despite having to operate in a turbulent and ever-changing education environment.

However, the report noted that some teams have struggled with ways to make the most effective use of scientists, and expressed concern that without on-going support, fledgling initiatives may die out in many districts. Nevertheless, TSAI's additional goal, of spawning second-generation institutes, has been met in North Carolina. There, state science-education leaders who received their first training at TSAI's Southeast Leadership Institute in Clemson, SC, or at a subsequent Lead Scientist Institute in Washington, have now conducted the first three of a series of annual institutes intended to reach all school districts in the state.

Schultz, who has written an article on this subject, admits that "there are serious challenges in getting scientists and educators to bridge the culture gap between them and work closely together," and the results have been varied.  Often scientists are interested in becoming involved, but lack support from the school districts, which do not always know how to integrate the participation of scientists. Ideally, the goal is to achieve a large number of scientists who are moderately involved. "Even if their contribution is only two or three days per year, scientists and engineers can add some unique elements, such as their by-now instinctive understanding of inquiry and their knowledge of scientific content in their field, to any reform effort, particularly to the professional development of teachers," says Schultz. Nevertheless, he believes, the greatest value of the TSAI program ultimately lies in the relatively small number of scientists who have become extremely involved and committed to systemic reform of science education, scientists who become real leaders of their local programs.

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Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette