Friday, March 18, 2011

Science Education is a National Defense Issue: A Call to Action

One of the most successful programs sponsored by the National Science Foundation is on the chopping block and we need your help to save it. The program is called GK-12 or the Graduate STEM Fellows in Education. This program matches science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM)graduate students with a mentor teacher at a local elementary, middle, high school to assist with improving the science content and serving as a science role model in the classroom. Over the course of the fellowship scientists learn to communicate their research to the kids in the classroom and translate their improved science communication skills to communicating with the public throughout the course of their careers. According to the Save GK-12 website, since its inception in 1999, the GK-12 program has changed the lives of:
7,400 Graduate fellows

5,000 Schools

9,000 Teachers

600,000 K-12 students
This direct line of communication between the education system in the United States and the scientific community is critical in our increasingly technological society. Our children need better math, science and critical thinking skills in order to be prepared to address our coming societal challenges. Having a GK-12 Fellow that is already on the technological front lines facing these challenges provides a unique perspective on the intersection between science and society. The GK-12 fellows are doing cutting edge research that affects almost every aspect of daily life. Energy policy, climate change, species diversity, earthquake science and engineering,  water quality and urban development, astrophysics, agriculture, development of unmanned aircraft, and AIDS vaccine development are just a few of the content areas GK-12 fellows are researching. Many fellows research develops technologies and addresses challenges that Adm. Mullen has cited as critical to National Defense. The true breadth of their research could not be summarized in a blog post and possibly not even in a book.  This program doesn’t imagine the power of having kids being mentored in research by cutting edge scientists, it’s doing it and your children are benefiting from it.

The rationale given for slashing the program from the National Science Foundation’s budget was that Fellows do not spend enough time in the classroom to bond with the students and really influence them in a significant way. I would respectfully beg to differ on this point. As a 2nd yr Fellow in the GK-12 program, I can honestly tell you that my fellowship is all about relationships. Kids often tell me things that they do not tell anyone else. When I sit down to work with a kid, my first question is always, “Tell me what you’re passionate about.” The answers vary: skateboards, music, etc. Inevitably any of these interests can be turned into a science lesson. For example, if your kid loves skateboards, then I try to help him investigate the physics of skateboarding, which will hopefully lead to fewer trips to the doctor for him and his parents. This past year, 9 of the 11 students I work with have entered science fair having completed individual research projects that are largely of their own design and execution.

What you need to ask yourself is whether you would rather your child learns science as a series of facts and worksheets, or whether you want your child to be educated by the strong partnership of a mentor teacher and graduate STEM fellow under GK-12. Then we, the GK12 program ask you to contact your Congressman, Senators, and the Senate and House Appropriations Committees and ask them to save the most successful science education program at NSF from being cut from the 2012 budget.

 You can contact your Congressman and Senators through by typing your zip code.

At the end of the day, what makes our country great is our individual ability as citizens to petition our government for redress. We shape the American democracy and we determine what things the government should spend money on.  Our nation’s future is now and it rests in the hands of our children in the educational systems. Every dollar spent to improve the quality of science education is an investment in your child, in our nation and in our ability to compete successfully today and tomorrow. Please stand up and support the GK12.

For more information on my experience with GK-12, please go here. A former fellow has also posted her experience. Numerous You Tube videos showing the hands-on work in the classroom abound.

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