FEd Summer 2002 Newsletter - Browsing Through the Journals

Summer 2002



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Browsing Through the Journals

Thomas D. Rossing

Like the Millennium Dome in London, a network of science centers built as part of the millennium celebration in Britain are in financial trouble, according to a news item in the 13 June issue of Nature. A dozen or so science centers, intended to boost the public understanding of science, educate children, and help to revitalize depressed urban areas, were financed largely with $360 million from Britain's national lottery. But with no lottery money available to maintain them, many of them, such as the Glasgow Science Centre, are in financial difficulty. "Without support from government, the future of science centers that do not have income streams other than visitors spending is bleak," the CEO of a science center in Newcastle is quoted as saying. Observers fear that many centers will be forced to replace educational activities with more commercial alternatives.

A conference called Physics on Stage 2 brought 420 teachers and educational experts from 24 European countries to Noordwijk April 2-6, according to a report in the June issue of Physics World. The conference, held at the European Space Agency's Space and Technology Center, included performances, presentations, and workshops. Most of the countries reported a common problem: a shortage of physics teachers. A third conference, Physics on Stage 3, will be held at CERN in Geneva, in November 2003. Information is available at www.physicsonstage.net.

A thoughtful editorial "Science for Citizens" by the editor, Lester Paldy, appears in the May issue of Journal of College Science Teaching. "It's remarkable," Paldy comments, "that nearly 50 years after the post-Sputnik reforms in pre-college and undergraduate science education and after the expenditure of many billions by NSF and other federal agencies, we're still struggling to figure out how we should approach the problem of science education for citizens." He suggests that local school boards would do well to hire science teachers who can share with their students at least one scientific hobby. Most schools would never hire music or art teachers who did not practice some aspect of those subjects. Why should science be different?

A call for more physics education research in the United Kingdom is the theme of an editorial "Looking at how we teach physics" in the May issue of Physics World. Although the UK is one of Europe's most active centers for developmental work in university physics teaching, more research on physics education is needed, the author argues. He cites groups at the Universities of Washington and Maryland in the US as examples.

A resource letter on risk analysis in the May issue of American Journal of Physics is intended to provide an introduction to the literature on risk analysis. It includes a discussion of how risks are calculated with roughly decreasing reliability: from historical data; new risks calculated by an understanding of engineering processes; and new risks calculated by analogies with other processes. Like all resource letters in the series, it lists books and journal articles useful in teaching about the subject, risk analysis.

The May 3rd issue of Physics Education includes two special features: Physics for Citizenship, which includes papers on "Citizenship and science" and "A citizenship dimension to physics education." The other special feature is on Teaching Quantum Physics, which includes four papers on various aspects of the subject. It is interesting to note that the March issue of American Journal of Physics also had a special focus on teaching quantum mechanics.

"Concern continues over K-12 Math, Science education despite R&D reforms" is the title of an article in the May/JUNE issue of NSTA Reports. The article discusses Science and Engineering Indicators 2002, a report from the National Science Board released in April. America's high school students continue to fall behind in international achievement measures in science and mathematics. Though more students are taking advanced academic courses in high school, many students need remedial work in college. A persistent issue in science and mathematics education is the size and adequacy of the teaching force, the report said. Teacher pay scales in the United States tend to be lower than those in a number of other countries, including Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the Netherlands. In addition, teachers in American schools tend to work longer hours. The full text of the report can be read at www.nsf.gov/sbe/srs/seind02/start.cfm.

Politicians understand the kind of stories that journalists are looking for. If more scientists did, too, they would be better equipped to get their message across, argues an editorial in the April 4 issue of Nature. Many scientists are quick to attack the media when they believe they have been misrepresented, whereas politicians realize that attacking journalists is short-sighted strategy. Instead they have become experts in rebutting inaccurate stories and imparting their own message. Some grant-awarding bodies now promote media training for scientists. Britain's Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, for example, announced plans to include $720 for media training in each grant it awards.

A strategy to tackle the declining popularity of the physical sciences in Ireland has been unveiled in a report by a government task force, according to a story in the June issue of Physics World. The strategy includes plans to upgrade undergraduate laboratories and the creation of "access" courses that can ease students' transition from school to university. Other recommendations include the creation of the post of chief science adviser, the setting up of a national science-awareness program, and the construction of a national hands-on science center.

"Improving Science Education for All Children" is the title of a guest editorial in the April issue of The Physics Teacher by Representative Vernon Ehlers (R. Mich). Dr. Ehlers, who is one of two physicists in Congress, reminds us that during the trying times last fall, Congress passed the President's education reform bill. This new law requires science testing for the first time in 2007-2008, giving states time to set the standards and prepare the tests. While these reforms will do much to improve our nation's schools, there is more to be done. Clearly the traditional "Three R's" of childhood education no longer offer sufficient preparation for an age where virtually every job requires basic problem-solving skills and technical competence. He urges the physics education community to participate in science education reform efforts by impressing upon local, state, and federal educators and policy-makers the need for such reform and the numerous contributions that science and technology make toward knowledge and our way of life.

Tom Rossing is Professor Emeritus of Physics at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL. He has for 6 years served as editor of the Forum on Education Newsletter.