Science in the Classroom: Present and Future

December 17, 1993

By Mike Woolridge,

Acknowledging the value of such programs as the Bay Area Science and Technology Education Collaboration with Oakland Public Schools, educators from around the country gathered at the Lawrence Hall of Science this week to discuss the present and future of science in the classroom. More than 150 teachers, administrators, and scientists attended the weeklong DOE Science Education Directors' Meeting. The event served as a follow-up to the Math/Science Education Action Conference, an educational summit convened at the Hall in 1989 by Glenn Seaborg, LBL's Director-at-Large and LHS Chairman.

The annual meeting also was a chance for DOE education leaders to chart strategies under an administration committed to fostering excellence in classroom science, according to Terry Cornwell Rumsey, the new director of DOE's Office of Science Education and Technical Information.

In opening remarks, Rumsey described reorganization at DOE that has given education leaders more access to the policy makers. "Our office now reports at the Secretarial Program level--we have a seat at the table when critical decisions are made regarding dollars, people and equipment," Rumsey said. "We are no longer an afterthought. We are a forethought."

Richard Stephens, Director of DOE's Office of University and Science Education Programs, summarized the department's current budget for educational programs. According to Stephens, the '90s have seen a shift in attention toward pre-college programs, especially those in the middle schools. Such action was in large part due to recommendations that came out of the 1989 meeting. Community college education is also a higher priority, said Stephens, since it will give youths the technical skills needed to enter critical industries.

LBL's Center for Science and Engineering Education assisted in coordinating the conference. CSEE director Rollie Otto and Eileen Engel, coordinator of CSEE's precollege programs, chaired the sessions on systemic change and inner-city and rural schools.

In assessing where DOE has succeeded since 1989, speakers cited innovative projects that have connected the laboratory and the classroom, including the Hands-On Universe program headed by LBL's Carl Pennypacker. They applauded "bridging" programs that have helped underrepresented minorities make the successful transition from high school to college, then from college to graduate school.

Many participants agreed, however, that there needs to be greater incentive for scientists to take their knowledge to schools. "We need to find ways to recognize scientists and engineers who participate in education," said Lynn Glass, a professor of science education at Iowa State. "We need to find better ways to incorporate such efforts into performance reviews."

Speakers also emphasized the need to bolster the image of science and mathematics in the mainstream media, which studies show has the greatest effect on a child's outlook on technology.