September 12, 2007 Edition

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Science for the real world

By Chris Lynch
Science Specialist
Guest Writer

Imagine, for a minute, a child sitting in a quiet, calm class. This child has been assigned a book to read and report on. This child can read at grade level, but this task is always so excruciating for the student.

This student finds it hard to concentrate on the story and finds his mind wandering, thinking about spaceships and lasers. The student begins to draw spaceships on his notebook, and the teacher moves closer to the student.

"What are you drawing?" the teacher asks.

"Nothing," says the student, trying to hide the notebook.

"Well it looks like spaceships," says the teacher. "Why don't you read this new book about the Mars Rovers?" Now the student becomes interested.

"What are the Mars Rovers?" the student asks.

"Oh they are just robots equipped with antennas, spectrometers and other science equipment; and they have been exploring the planet Mars. Right now, on Mars there are two robots controlled by humans on Earth that are looking around, collecting information about Mars. They crashed into Mars, but they were cushioned by big balloons. Then they opened up their solar cells to collect energy, and started looking around," says the teacher.

The student is hooked. This teacher has done a great job of integrating science content into a reading assignment, by tapping into a student's interest.

Science has long been a neglected subject in schools due to the pervasive emphasis placed on mathematics and literacy. This emphasis has become overwhelming in the era of No Child Left Behind and the ever-present Benchmark exams that our kids routinely take.

I once asked, "Where is the science benchmark?" and, "Why isn't there a huge and overwhelming emphasis being placed on science education?" I can see the signs now that the changes are coming.

Recently I attended a conference entitled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm." This conference was organized by the Arkansas STEM coalition, which is a consortium of business, industry, government and education leaders. The subtitle of this conference was "Energizing and Employing Arkansans for a Brighter Economic Future."

Governor Mike Beebe spoke at this conference and made it clear that he places a priority on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) as a means of energizing the economy of Arkansas.

Science education is finally getting the attention it deserves. Placing science alongside math and literacy in our education priorities is imperative if our children are going to be competitive in the global market. Obviously, literacy and mathematics are essential to science education and must be integrated into a robust science program.

Cross-curricular integration is not only good for science, it is good for math and literacy, as well. Literacy education can use science content, and mathematics can use science data to make the mathematics more "real world"

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