March 13, 2007

C.U. Students Set to Learn How to Teach Science

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“Why is it that some students can go all through school and graduate from Ivy League colleges like Harvard or MIT, yet they fail to understand some basic science concepts?” ask Profs. Barbara Crawford and Dawn Schrader, both from Cornell’s education department, in their upcoming workshop entitled “The Art of Teaching”.

Participants in this Saturday’s Science Teaching Workshop will explore this question as well as other issues related to the way students learn science and examine ways to effectively teach science in elementary and secondary schools.

The workshop, sponsored by the Cornell Center for Materials Research and funded by the National Science Foundation, will give students a look at how to conduct a class with hands-on experiments, discussions and a panel of teachers from all levels of the educational spectrum.

Prof. Travis Park, education, will lead “Reading in the Sciences,” analyzing models for efficient science reading and writing strategies. Prof. Stan Chu, education, Bank Street College, will also lead “Investigations in Science,” focusing on “the doing of science” and on formulating ideas and patterns from evidence gathered in experiments.

In addition, panelists Prof. Frank DiSalvo, chemistry, Myriam Ibarra, Walt Peck, Wayne Gottlieb and Myra Sanchez-Farley will answer questions and share experiences from the field.

“I really enjoy teaching and would like to continue developing those skills,” said chemistry student Amy Richter grad, who will be attending the event.

The workshop is just one of the many programs that CCMR sponsors to foster the interests of Cornell students who desire to pursue careers in teaching. The Educational Programs Office boasts over 38 programs, which cater to secondary school students, parents and teachers, as well as undergraduates from across the country.

“There are so many great, intelligent, well-educated people here interested in teaching science and not a lot of programs to help them know what it is really like,” said CCMR Educational Programs Office coordinator and event organizer Jane Earle.

The CCMR is one of the NSF’s 28 Materials Research and Engineering Centers, which work to identify and address problems within the science community. One such problem is teacher salaries, identified by both students and the National Science Board, the governing board of the NSF, as a pressing issue.

Looming student loans, which can be upwards of $40,000, increase the appeal of industry jobs, students said.

“Commercial or government jobs would probably pay better as a means to pay loans,” explained Nicholas Ferraro, a graduate student in applied engineering and physics. “I recognize a gap between the commercial and the teaching sector.”

According to the NSB’s 2006 Companion to Science and Engineering Indicators report, teacher salaries have only grown 2.9 percent over the last decade.

As a result, elementary and secondary schools are having trouble hiring qualified teachers. The NSB’s Science and Engineering Indicators report stated that “college graduates who became teachers took fewer rigorous academic courses in high school, had lower scores on 12th grade achievement tests, scored lower on college entrance examinations and graduated from less-selective colleges.”

The government is also taking steps to promote teaching science. In his 2006 State of the Union Address, President George Bush introduced the American Competitiveness Initiative, proposing to train 70,000 high school math and science teachers. The Protecting America’s Competitive Edge Act, a bipartisan act, was also introduced in the Senate last year, proposing increases in training programs and scholarships for future K-12 math and science teachers.