News: AAAS News & Notes
27 April 2007
Edited by Edward W. Lempinen
Ambitious Joint Project Will Provide Science Support to School Boards
Divyesh N. Patel, a member of the Rio Rancho (NM) Board of Education, was among some 200 local school board members who discussed the challenges of improving science-related education.
SAN FRANCISCO—Researchers call it an "urgency gap": While school officials and business leaders see a critical need for improved science, mathematics, and technology education, students and their parents are complacent.
Helping to close that gap will be one of the central goals in a historic new collaboration between AAAS and the National School Boards Association (NSBA), which have launched a 3-year project underwritten by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to give local school boards advice and resources for promoting science-related education in communities across the United States.
By February 2008, NSBA and AAAS expect to produce a set of resources on science, mathematics, and technology education, including a CD-ROM that can be tailored for different districts with different needs and a regularly updated Web site focused on science-education news. Both will be based on extensive dialogue with school board members.
The program debuted 14 April before some 200 local school board members who attended a symposium at the NSBA annual conference in San Francisco. The biggest surprise to emerge from the 3-hour event? While Kansas City school board members interviewed for the project worry about the evolution issue emerging in their districts, most say that the need to improve science, mathematics, and technology education is a more pressing day-to-day and long-term issue, said Alison Kadlec, senior public engagement research associate at the civic research firm Public Agenda.
"What kind of jobs are out there, and what kinds of skills do kids need to be successful in those careers? That's what I want to know more about, and think more about, as I do my job," one of those board members told Public Agenda.
Board members at the San Francisco conference echoed that sentiment, and they welcomed the AAAS/NSBA project as a way to obtain expertise and training that will help them meet unprecedented challenges in preparing students for the 21st- century economy.
The project creates a powerful partnership between NSBA, which represents 95,000 local school board members in nearly 15,000 local school districts serving more than 47 million public school students, and AAAS, the world's largest general scientific society and a global leader in science education. Other parti-cipants include AAAS's Education and Human Resources division; Project 2061, AAAS's science literacy initiative; and the International Technology Education Association.
"Our partnership with the NSBA is very exciting," said Connie Bertka, who oversees the project for AAAS as director of the association's Program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). "The scientific community will now have an opportunity to discover firsthand what the needs and concerns of school board members are around science, math, and technology education. We can work collaboratively with school board leadership to respond to those needs."
"We have been working for the past 10 years to help school board members to recognize that student achievement is the top priority for school boards—that's what they should focus on," added Joseph S. Villani, NSBA's deputy executive director. "Content expertise with science, math, and technology
is something that we don't have a lot of experience with, and that's the value of working with AAAS."
AAAS initially had considered engaging with school boards about the issue of teaching evolution in schools. But in discussions with NSBA and other experts, the need emerged for a broader initiative, said Peyton West, a senior program associate with DoSER. The project is funded by a new $739,000 grant from the Kansas City—based Kauffman Foundation, which works to advance entrepreneurship and improve the education of children and youth.
The Foundation "recognizes the critical role that local school boards play in improving mathematics, science, and technology education through the decisions they make regarding hiring, curriculum, and facilities," said Dennis Cheek, its vice president for education. "This grant will provide local school boards with high-quality, up-to-date tools and information that can inform their local decisions to significantly improve programs…at all levels of pre-K-12 education."
Erin Adams, a 10-year veteran of the school board in Minnetonka, Minnesota, said that the project could engage entire communities.
"The ultimate value of a project like this would be to give board members—who are often not experts in these fields, and don't have the level of education that the students themselves need—a resource pool and training so that we can advocate these goals for our communities," Adams said. "If we have a more consistent recommended policy, a definition of what it means to be mathematically and scientifically literate, in the 21st century, we can articulate that vision."
Regional Divisions Help Carry AAAS to the Grassroots
This September, before winter settles in, hundreds of scientists from Alaska, Canada, and other polar regions will travel to Anchorage for the 58th AAAS Arctic Science Conference. It won't be as big as the AAAS Annual Meeting, but the conference and the scientists who will attend it play a vital role in expanding the association's knowledge and extending its impact on polar science and policy issues.
AAAS's three other regional divisions—the Pacific, Caribbean, and the Southwestern and Rocky Mountain divisions—also are closely focused on environmental issues. They are engaging scientists and helping inform local policy-makers and the public not only about climate and sustainability, but also a range of issues that are priorities for AAAS and the world scientific community.
"For decades, our regional divisions have been doing important work for AAAS, with a great deal of energy but usually without a lot of fanfare," said AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner. "They provide a forum for scientists in their regions. They engage with teachers, students, and the public, including many minorities and indigenous people. They help to carry the themes we set each year at the AAAS Annual Meeting to the grassroots, and that's very helpful to the scientific enterprise."
At Pacific Division's 88th Annual Meeting from 17 to 21 June, the theme will be "Science for a Green Future," said Executive Director Roger G. Christianson, professor of biology at Southern Oregon University. Among the featured programs will be symposia on "green cities," wilderness protection, and 150 years of human impact on the West's "sagebrush steppe."
The Southwestern and Rocky Mountain (SWARM) Division of AAAS held its 82nd Annual Meeting in Houston from 18 to 21 April, opening with a symposium on energy research and development; the closing symposia were on the teaching of evolution in public schools and stem cell research. SWARM Executive Director David T. Nash said that sessions on climate and sustainability are under consideration for the 2008 division meeting.
The Caribbean Division has cosponsored an exchange program involving environmental education teachers from Puerto Rico and Wisconsin. Like meetings in years past, this year's meeting—on 20 October in Puerto Rico—will feature environmental themes, said division President Margarita Irizarry-Ramírez, a researcher at the University of Puerto Rico Medical Sciences Campus.
The Arctic Division, founded in 1951 (as the Alaska Division), has emerged as a key forum on a range of polar environmental issues, including climate change. Its Arctic Science Conference in September will focus on the International Polar Year (IPY), a global, scientific program that runs from March 2007 to March 2009.
Arctic Division President John Kelley, a professor of marine science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), served on the National Academies of Science Planning Committee for U.S. participation in the IPY. "The IPY and the membership of the AAAS Arctic Division will have an opportunity to leave a legacy brought about by the presentation of results of international collaborative science and engineering through the publication of the proceedings of the Arctic Science Conference," Kelley said.
Arctic Division Executive Director Lawrence K. Duffy, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UAF, noted that the annual AAAS Arctic conference also is an important forum for young scientists and science students.
"Learning about the role polar regions play in global climate processes and the resilience of Arctic peoples will inspire the next generation of scientists, science educators and policy leaders," Duffy said.
AAAS members who live or work within one of the regional divisions are automatically considered division members. To learn more about the regional divisions, visit www.aaas.org/go/divisions.
New Atlas Maps Out Routes to Science Literacy
At this month's meeting of the National Science Teachers Association in St. Louis, AAAS's science literacy initiative Project 2061 released the second volume of its groundbreaking Atlas of Science Literacy. Like its 2001 companion Atlas 1, the new book is a collection of "roadmaps" that can help teachers build science literacy from kindergarten through the 12th grade.
The atlas debuts as new federal science learning standards are taking root in American classrooms. Beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, the U.S. No Child Left Behind Act requires science testing at least once in each of three grade spans: 3 to 5, 6 to 9, and 10 to 12.
Teachers may need to adjust when they teach certain topics to prepare their students for the new testing schedule, according to Elizabeth Petersen, a middle-school science teacher in Ladue, Missouri, and past president of the Science Teachers of Missouri. The Atlas is "an enormously powerful tool to help teachers choose the most important science concepts at each stage," Petersen said. "The maps also underscore the fact that teachers at every grade level have such an important role to play in promoting science literacy."
Maps in the two-volume Atlas of Science Literacy connect the K-12 science learning goals recommended in Project 2061's respected Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy. Volume 2 contains maps for 44 new topics, including weather and climate, computation and estimation, and health technology.
"The maps chart the ideas and skills that students are expected to learn, when they might be able to learn them, and how the set of ideas and skills fit together to support science literacy," explained Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061.
St. Louis—area K-12 teachers who took part in an Earth Systems class praised the Atlas map format, according to course instructor Sharon Kassing of the St. Louis Zoo and the Center for Inquiry in Science Teaching and Learning. "They really liked the Atlas maps," she reported. "The way the information is arranged, and the notations about how and when related topics can be addressed with students were popular features among the teachers."
A preview of the new Atlas and information on ordering the volume is available at www.project2061.org. Project 2061's Benchmarks of Science Literacy and Science for All Americans are now freely available there, too.
Tap into Federal Funds with GrantsNet 2.0
Researchers can now use the ScienceCareers.org GrantsNet site to find U.S. government grant announcements, significantly expanding the funding opportunities available to GrantsNet visitors.
The new announcements, directly imported from the federal Grants.gov database, should increase the number of "live" grants on the site from 900 to 1400 by the end of the year, according to Alan Kotok, ScienceCareers managing editor. Many of these new grants are in the physical sciences, social sciences, and engineering—a change from GrantsNet's original focus on biomedical and life sciences.
Along with the site's extensive database of nongovernmental grants, the new GrantsNet "gives researchers and administrators a single location to find funding from all sources, with obvious savings in time and energy," Kotok said, noting that the number of visitors to the funding section of ScienceCareers is up 39% from this time last year.
The revamped database is only part of the site's transformation to "GrantsNet 2.0." The site also offers two new monthly RSS feeds that will alert users directly about new research funding and student and institutional support. But one thing hasn't changed: GrantsNet is still free of charge and requires no registration to use. To test-drive GrantsNet 2.0, visit http://sciencecareers.sciencemag.org/funding.