Browsing the Journals
- Life experiences before eighth grade and in elementary school may have an important impact on future career plans, according an article in the 26 May issue of Science. According to results in a survey conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics, an average mathematics achiever with a science-related career expectation has a higher probability of earning a baccalaureate degree in the physical sciences or engineering than a high mathematics achiever with a nonscience career expectation (34% vs 19%). To attract students into the sciences and engineering, we should pay close attention to childrenҳ early exposure to science at the middle and even younger grades. Encouragement of interest and exposure to the sciences should not be ignored in favor of an emphasis on standardized test preparation.
- "In the Quest for Coolness, Science Could Really Use a Vito Corleone" is the title of an essay in the May 23 issue of The New York Times. "You know, the film that finally does for science and scientists what 'The Godfather' did for crime and what 'The West Wing' did for politics, accurately reproducing the grandeur and grit of science while ushering its practitioners into the ranks of coolness." Scientists often say nice things about science-oriented plays, like "Copenhagen," "QED" and "Proof," to name a few that have been on Broadway in recent years, but you get mostly silence when you ask about movies. At the Tribecca Film Festival each spring several films and screenplays supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, under its program for the public understanding science, are given staged readings. Recently it was announced that David Strathairn would star in a production of "Challenger" about Richard Feynman and his adventures investigating the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger in 1986.
- Five years after making a trailblazing decision to require physics in the ninth grade, the San Diego school board decided to do away with that mandate, according to a story in the May 24 San Diego Union-Tribune. The reversal follows years of controversy and months of intense lobbying and criticism by some teachers. For the physical science requirement, students now can choose between physics and chemistry; they must take biology to meet the life science requirement. Critics ridiculed the introductory physics curriculum, Active Physics, for its light math content and cartoon illustrations. The district is moving to replace Active Physics. The San Diego Unified School District boasts the highest percentage of students enrolled in science of any large urban district in the state. This year, for the first time, all 10th graders in California are required to take a life science test, whether or not they have taken biology. Because San Diego students take biology last, usually in 11th grade, they are at a disadvantage.
- "Testing the test: Item response curves and test quality" is the title of a multi-author Physics Education Research paper in the May issue of American Journal of Physics. The paper presents a simple technique for evaluating multiple-choice questions and their answers beyond the usual measures of difficulty and the effectiveness of distracters. The technique, based on item response theory from the field of education measurement, is applied to three questions from the Force Concept Inventory.
- The necessity of obtaining a graduate degree in the United States in order to acquire a U.S. work visa may be the most important reason for the recent increase in graduate school applications from foreign students, according to a Letter in the 12 May issue of Science. This appears to have been overlooked in the survey by the Council of Graduate Schools who reported a "flood" of applications to U.S. graduate schools by foreign students (Science, March 31. Also reported in "Browsing the Journals" in the Spring FEd newsletter). The author comments that it is perhaps ironic that raising the bar on granting work visas has had the side effect of increasing the number of foreign grad student applicants.
- Half of new U.S. teachers are likely to quit within the first five years because of poor working conditions and low salaries, according to an article in the May 9 issue of Washington Post. Although teachers are more educated than ever before, with the proportion of those holding master's degrees increasing to 50 percent from 23 percent in the early 1960s, the proportion of new teachers who leave the profession has hovered around 50 percent for decades. Only 6 percent of teachers are African American, and 5 percent are Hispanic, Asian or come from other ethnic groups. Men represent barely a quarter of teachers, which NEA says is the lowest level in four decades.
- A thoughtful editorial on "Pseudoscience" appears in the April issue of The Physics Teacher. The author reminds us that many students believe in pseudoscience; 40% of high school graduates believe in astrology, for example. At least as large a fraction believe in, or "aren't sure about," paranormal phenomena such as telepathy and extraterrestrial visitations, and the overall situation doesn't necessarily improve as students progress through college. We often pride ourselves on teaching the scientific method and fostering critical thinking, but are we really succeeding? What has gotten our attention are the recent efforts to require the teaching of pseudoscience, such as intelligent design, in science classes. "Over the years we have learned a great deal about ways of teaching that promote the dispelling of all sorts of student misconceptions. We should now begin to direct more of our effort and expertise toward pseudoscience," concludes the author.
- A review of the book Moderating the Debate by Michael Feuer appears in the April 21 issue of Science. The debate is over how best to bolster mathematics and science education, as called for in President Bush's State of the Union message. Although cognitive psychology has been central to modern theories of teaching and learning, the cognitive revolution has barely touched education policy and the organization of schooling "where decades of well-intentioned but unrealistic goals suggest the need for a new model of rationality." He proposes that that researchers and policy-makers alike "lower their rhetorical and political thermostats."
- Science achievement scores recently released in the National Assessment of Education Progress show improvement among fourth-grade students in science, but scores for eighth-grade students remain flat, according to a report in the May 30 issue of NSTA Express online. The test was administered in early 2005 by the Department of Education to more than 300,000 students across the nation and on military bases around the world.
- The April issue of American Journal of Physics is a special issue devoted to teaching of electricity and magnetism. Included are articles on theory, experiment, problems, history, philosophy, and physics education research related to E&M. The lead editorial reminds us that "As the first complete and mathematically rigorous field theory that prospective physicists learn, electromagnetism serves as the quintessential model of a physical theory."
- Last year, according to the 11 July issue of The Institute, more than 1500 people joined the IEEE Women in Engineering (WIE) group, the largest annual growth in its history, bringing the total number of WIE members to about 12 000. Last year also saw the formation of 43 WIE Affinity Groups and Student Affinity Groups, the most ever established in one year, for total of 103. Student IEEE membership increased by more than 8% last year, while membership in regular grades increased only 0.5%.
Thomas Rossing is Distinguished Professor Emeritus at Northern Illinois University and a Visiting Professor at Stanford University. He is a Fellow of ASA, AAAS, and IEEE as well as APS and an Editor of the Forum on Education newsletter.