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The ability of America to compete in the world, particularly in the areas of science or engineering, is in trouble. A 2009 report by the National Academies, the country’s leading advisory group on science and technology, found that the United States ranks 27th out of 29 developed countries in the proportion of college students receiving undergraduate degrees in science or engineering . The report calls on federal and state governments to target early childhood education; strengthen the public school math and science curriculum, and improve teacher training in these crucial subjects.
In support of these goals, in September 2010, President Obama announced the launch of Change the Equation, an initiative to improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. During his State of the Union address in January, President Obama also called for investments in education, infrastructure and research.
1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days is a program that Scientific American launched earlier this month as part of its Change the Equation initiates with their parent Nature Publishing Group. It aims to make it easier for scientists and teachers to connect. They’re recruiting scientists who are “willing to volunteer to advise on curricula, answer a classroom’s questions, or visit a school” to talk about science or a typical day in the lab. Perhaps some scientists will answer questions by email or Skype. How they participate, and the frequency at which they participate, will be up to them.
An editorial in Nature earlier this month gets to the heart of the matter :
In the younger grades, many US science teachers have no science training: in 2004, only 40% of fifth- and 80% of eighth-grade students were taught maths and science by teachers with a degree or certificate in their teaching field, according to the most recent figures from the National Science Foundation.
What is more, teachers have to juggle the often-conflicting demands to ‘teach to the test’, which requires a lot of learning by rote, with the need to imbue students with the inspiring wonder of science — and the process-driven critical thinking and evidence collection that proper research requires. Educators also wrestle with anti-science demands to ‘teach the controversy’ in disciplines such as evolution and climate change. According to the National Center for Science Education, at least eight anti-evolution bills have been introduced in US state legislatures since the beginning of 2011.
Overcoming the obstacles our country faces in early childhood education and achieving success as a nation depends on strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of discovery and innovation. If you’re a scientist, mathematician or engineer and want to help improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, head on over to the Scientific American site and add your name to the list of participants. The program hopes to have a directory of scientists available for teachers by this fall for the 2011-2012 school year.