The other week, I attended a talk by Dr. Rena Dorph, the Director of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Assessment (REA) at the Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS). The talk and discussion that followed—which were hosted by the Science, Technology, Engineering Policy group (STEP) here at Berkeley—centered around how senior scientists and science and engineering graduate students could help meet some of the challenges encountered by K-12 science education in the US. Graduate students and a smattering of educators and outreach program facilitators filled the room. Their concern was palpable as Dr. Dorph listed some of the appalling statistics that haunt science education in the Bay Area:
- Most elementary educational programs commit less than 1hr/week to science.
- 40% of science teachers say they feel unprepared to teach science.
- Most science teachers receive little or no professional development.
The list went on, but some of the main problems were obvious: science education was taking a back seat to subjects required for testing, there were few resources available to science teachers, and there were few opportunities for students to explore science after school.
Fortunately, there are simple steps that senior scientists and graduate students can take in their spare time to help address many of these problems. By volunteering in after school programs like the ones at LHS, we can excite students about science. We can co-teach lessons, like in the Science and Health Education Partnership program at UCSF, or simply provide support to science teachers who are uncertain about a subject area. We can mentor high school students as summer researchers, such as in the Summer High-School Apprenticeship Research Program. For more ideas, check out the Science, Technology & Engineering Policy Group‘s website. In short, there are many great ways to get involved with educational outreach as a graduate student or even as a full-time scientist or engineer. And if the fun of mentoring and the skills gained by teaching kids aren’t enough to convince you, then consider that the NSF is beginning to reward investigators and scientist for their outreach efforts and even requiring outreach efforts on some grants.