James Thieman, co-chair of the Code 630 Education and Outreach committee, and Louis Mayo, chair of the Hughes STX Education and Outreach committee, attended the Pre-College Education Workshop held by the Space Science Institute (SSI) on February 23-26, 1997, in Boulder, Colorado. The workshop was designed to educate space science researchers in how they could support and reform science education in elementary and secondary schools and school districts.
The conference highlighted the work being done in hands-on, inquiry-based education as a method of reforming the way science is being taught in American schools. There was particular emphasis on space science education, and many of the participants were astronomers or physicists from universities around the country. The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Ray Lopez (director of education outreach for the American Physical Society and SSI board member) and Dr. Paul Dusenbery (head of SSI). A broad spectrum of presenters including teachers, technology specialists, learning theorists, scientists, and policy makers discussed their experiences in science education reform. Workshop participants not only heard about these reforms but got to practice and experience them in real time through various games and hands-on science lessons.
Highlights of the workshop included a visit to a Boulder Valley elementary school in which inquiry-based science activity kits were being used to teach science concepts to all grades. Observation and interaction with the children indicated the level of excitement and curiosity that were sparked by the activities. The kits are called Full Option Science System (FOSS) kits and were developed at the University of California Berkeley. They contain all the materials needed to do multiple activities within a single subject area such as variables, magnetic fields and electricity, measurements, etc. The kits include a manual and video tape for the teacher and are easily adapted for use. Nonetheless, there probably are still many teachers who would be hesitant to use this approach. Much of the workshop was spent in discussing how scientists might help teachers to overcome their fears of inquiry-based learning.
There were other educational modules such as "solarscapes," which use simple NASA solar imagery to teach the basics about the Sun as the nearest star. One could easily imagine a number of learning modules being built around the data and imagery available through the NSSDC.
Workshop participants will be maintaining communications throughout the year as they take their new knowledge of science education outreach and apply it to current and possibly new programs.
Erin D. Gardner, email@example.com, (301) 286-0163
Hughes STX, Code 633, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, MD 20771, U.S.A.