Browsing the Journals
Thomas Rossing, Stanford University
- Many U.S. educators think that the country’s decentralized management of education by state and local government bodies is hampering nationwide efforts to improve science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, according to a report in the 4 May issue of Science. But a draft plan, drawn up by the National Science Board, suggests a way to get around that problem without abandoning local control over schools. The proposal recommends creating a federally chartered body with representatives from the state, the federal government, and the the education and business communities. The proposal comes from a blue-ribbon commission co-chaired by physicist Leon Lederman.
- ACT scores of 1.3 million high school students in the class of 2007 indicate that a growing number of high school graduates are prepared for college level courses in science and mathematics, according to a story in the August 16 issue of NSTA Reports. Students earned an average composite score of 21.2 on the college admissions and placement, up from 20.8 in 2003 and 21.1 last year. Scores improved in all four of the required subject-area tests: science, English, mathematics, and reading. Each test is scored on a scale of 1 to 36, with the composite score being the average of the four required test scores.
- Singapore’s hopes of becoming a regional center for higher education suffered a setback when the University of New South Wales in Sydney announced it is abandoning plans to establish a comprehensive university there, according to a story in the 1 June issue of Science. UNSW Asia opened its doors last March with 148 students, less than half of the 300 it had hoped for. The university will assist current students in transferring to its Sydney campus or to other Singapore institutions.
- ”Is there a future for physics?” is the title of an editorial in the July/August issue of Physics in Canada. “Whether truth, absolute truth, should or should not (or can or cannot) be discovered by scientists is a matter for the poet to reflect upon. For the research scientist the search for truth is a single-minded and an all-encompassing one.” A highly respected scientific journalist recently expressed concern that physics may be limited theoretically by the limits of quantum mechanics and practically by economic considerations that say the next generation of useful experiments will become impossibly expensive.
- The July issue Physics Education includes special features on Space Flight and on Air. It includes two articles on the history of space flight, as well as two articles on the physics of flight. (One article treats fixed and rotating wings; the second one deals with flapping wings).
- Before children can even speak, they develop commonsense assumptions about the physical world that can persist into adulthood and clash with scientific discoveries according to a paper in May 18 issue of Science. For example, because objects fall down if not held up, kids may have trouble accepting that the world is round, reasoning that things on the other side should naturally fall off. When both adults and kids obtain knowledge from others, they judge claims based on how much they trust the source of an assertion. It suggests that science will meet resistance in societies where alternative views are championed by trustworthy authorities, such as political or religious leaders.
- “When Science Suddenly Mattered, in Space and in Class” is the title of a story in the September 25 issue of The New York Times” reviewing the changes in science education in the past 50 years since the launching of Sputnik. For many, Sputnik was proof that American education, particularly in science, had fallen behind. Congress passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958, providing college scholarships and other help for aspiring scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Some of the nation’s eminent scientists collaborated on new ways to teach high school physics, chemistry, and biology. According to Shirley Malcolm, director of education and human resources at AAAS, “We lived many years off the investment of the race for space, but today there is a kind of complacency.”
Charles Holbrow is among experts on science education who say that the hands-on approach to science teaching does not mesh well with the No Child Left Behind law, the Bush administration’s major education initiative, which emphasizes standardized tests and focuses on reading and math. Other experts, such as Leon Lederman, champion the “physics first” approach to teaching science. “Biology is the most complicated of all subjects, and it is based on chemistry and physics.”
- Another story recognizing the effect of Sputnik on science education in the United States was heard on All Things Considered on National Public Radio (npr) October 1. America’s scientific community, which had long been pushing for a new direction in science education, seized on the national mood to rejuvenate the curriculum. David Hawkins answered critics who said that there was no time for reforms, no time to “reinvent the wheel.” “Not everything is known, as yet, about the wheel, either the mathematics of it or the physics,” Hawkins wrote. Washington gave the new science curriculum an infusion of more than a billion dollars when it passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958. The era saw the beginning of a federal involvement in education that would spread out in all directions in the coming years. But that burst of enthusiasm was overtaken by new demands. Many educators feel that the U.S. is again losing its science lead to countries such as Korea and Italy where more advanced degrees are awarded.
- Discipline-based education research seeks to marry deep knowledge of the discipline with similarly deep knowledge of learning and pedagogy. Within the engineering community, according to a Forum article in the 31 August issue of Science, the ultimate aims of such research include the creation of education programs that attract more students to the study of engineering. In the 1990s, centers for research on engineering education opened on several campuses with foci ranging from foundation research to innovative approaches to curriculum, learning teaching, and assessment. The Journal of Engineering Education was repositioned to focus on publishing scholarly research in engineering education.
- Facing a projected need of 30,000 new math and science teachers in the next decade, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger sought and won pledges from the state’s two public university systems to tackle the problem in return for increased state aid, according to an article in the 1 June issue of Science. The 23-campus California State University (CSU) system, which produces about 60% of the state’s teachers, agreed to double its output of 750 math and science teachers by 2010. The University of California (UC) system agreed to quadruple the 200 students now graduating from its 10 research-oriented campuses with science and math teaching credentials. Training lots of teachers will require wrenching changes for most UC campuses, their science departments, and individual faculty members.
- Physicist Leon Lederman calls climate change a “menace” that, like the Soviet satellite, will spur more science, according to a story in the October 15 issue of U.S. News and World Report. Fifty years after the Soviet satellite initiated the space age, scientists and educators are again arguing, as they were in the years before Sputnik, that the United States is falling behind its competitors in producing scientists and engineers. Lederman, who received the 1988 Nobel Prize in physics, has now turned his attention to finding new ways to inspire science and math teachers. Lederman has argued for teaching physics before chemistry and biology. He would also like to see more scientists running for Congress. We need more scientists going into Congress. “There's a huge difference between being an adviser and being an elected official,” he points out.
- Thousands of schools are straining to meet the standards of the No Child Left Behind law, according to a story in the October 16 issue of The New York Times. More than 1000 of California’s 9500 schools are branded chronic failures, and the numbers are growing. “What are we supposed to do? Shut down every school?” asked the director of high schools in the gang-infested neighborhoods of east side Los Angeles. In Florida, 441 schools could be candidates for closing. In New York State, 77 schools were candidates for restructuring last year. Some districts, like those in New York City, have moved forcefully to shut large failing high schools are break them into small schools. Under the No Child law, a school declared low-performing for three years in a row must offer students free tutoring and the option to transfer. After five years, such schools are essentially treated as irredeemable, with the law prescribing starting over with a new structure, new leadership or new teachers.
- The September issue of Physics Education includes a special feature on “Water”. Included are papers entitled “Exploration glaciology: radar and Antarctic ice,” “Clouds,” “ Bouncing steel balls on water,” “Some simple observations on buoyancy,” “Archimedes’ principle in action,” “A strange fountain” and others.