Science Education Unacceptable in the US

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The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) report on Science Education has just been released and science literacy is “unacceptable” according to the executive director of the National Science Teacher’s Association (the NSTA is something that both myself and our OpenSim builder Ener Hax have been a member of in the past).

One of our goals with Enclave Harbour is to make science fun, approachable, accessible, and affordable. There is a “craze” at the moment for 3D teaching materials that use special LCD projectors and 3D glasses. These projectors are expensive (the bulbs can run in excess of $1000!). This type of expenditure is beyond many school districts and while 3D content is seen as innovative, it does little good if it can’t reach every student.

science2009
click to explore more charts

The NAEP report shows that not only is the gender gap growing in science, something we are consciously addressing with Ener’s builds and my workbook, but so is the ethnic gap in science literacy.

The poorest schools have the largest gaps and they need ways to make science fun, affordable, and that allow teachers to add their own ideas to. Current 3D materials typically do not allow teachers to add to them nor do they allow any additions by students – they are passive and non-participatory.

In my graduate work I was fortunate to have a department chair that was focused on making science accessible and sustainable for the poorest school districts. He did this by creating science activities (labs) that used common inexpensive items, many of which were items that are often discarded after use (I’m dating myself but some of those items included things like 35 mm film canisters which used to be prevalent).

OpenSim is one potential tool that is priced right and fairly accessible. Many schools have computer labs and a computer is infinitely more useful as hardware than a 3D projector. The problem with trendy “hi-tech” things like 3D projectors and glasses is the long term use of them or, I should say, the abandonment of them. At some point, they no longer get maintained and join the other techie things that were past fads. If you are a school district that can afford these types of things and are not letting go of teachers, then more power to you.

In the real world we are obviously failing and Francis Eberle, executive director of the NSTA, summed it up like this:

Unfortunately, over the last decade, schools have been forced to reduce funding for teacher training and science classroom resources and even eliminate positions to offset budget constraints. As a result, students are barely able to keep their heads above water in terms of their science education learning.

Reduced funding will continue to be a challenge and has been a challenge in the sciences for as long as I have been in teaching – both at the secondary and community college level. When I taught at Miami Dade College, we had a fantastic Geology lab that was very well equipped, yet the Geology classes no longer were offered with a lab credit. The money had been spent but it was cheaper to shutter the lab. Cheaper in that a professor was paid for a three hour course rather than a four hour course. While I could not bring the students to the lab, nothing prevented me from bringing the lab to them. I would get to school a little early, load up an AV cart with rocks, minerals, sieves, balances, and whatever I needed to ensure that my students had the chance to “feel” science.

Science can be a blast (literally and maybe Ener will embarrass me and mention the times that Mr. Miller blew things up – not always intentionally) and there is no substitute for being immersed in science. Handling minerals and figuring out density is immersive but also requires the proper resources.

As Eberle wrote above, science classroom resources are often lacking and teachers need innovative and inexpensive tools. Some progressive teachers and science departments have discovered OpenSim as both an immersive tool and one that allows themselves and students to go beyond passive observation and enter the creative realm offered by OpenSim (great post by Ener about one tech coordinator bringing OpenSim to students).

OpenSim does require computers but many schools have them and they are far more versatile than projectors. Thanks to Roger Stark’s tutorials on installing OpenSim on a USB drive and Ener’s sim-on-a-stick website, OpenSim use can be very simple requiring a minimum of tech skills to place this great immersive tool into the hands of teachers and students.

Your imagination is often the only limiting factor and OpenSim can be used for more than just science.

reposted on the iliveisl blog