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Juggling research and high school outreach

Andro Rios, a AAAS member, spent his fourth year of graduate school at the University of California, San Diego doing double duty: he was both a nucleic acids chemist and resident scientist at a high school in the Socrates program, which pairs graduate students with local teachers. During the year, he spent one day a week teaching and developing activities that were related to his own research. It was often grueling work. Not only did he lose one lab day a week, he also spent hours preparing and planning lessons, while trying to advance his research projects.

To Rios, the lost hours of sleep were well worth it, as the program accomplished two key things. First, it taught him to bring Ph.D. level science to a high school level without dumbing it down and being condescending. Second, it introduced high school teachers and students to current science, an area that's usually far removed from classroom material. As Rios put it, "a lot of kids think that science is just a historical body of knowledge because they're learning about past progress in textbooks. By interacting with graduate students, they learn about what happens now and the real process of science and that science is still being developed."

Rios also wanted to learn how the public develops a disinterest for science and if there is a way to correct it. High school students presented him with a perfect model, since many people got their last science lessons in high school. After a year in the program, he learned that apathy towards science is present in high schools, but can be corrected. Unfortunately, one or two activities aren't enough. In his words, "you have to change the whole curriculum. A fun activity engages them quickly, but they'll forget in time if you don't build on that initial momentum generated by those great activities. It's much harder to sustain that receptiveness to science."

The overall experience has motivated him to continue working on science education for the general public. In the future, he would like to assist educators in developing curricula that will encourage students to incorporate an awareness of science, particularly the feared topic of chemistry, into their daily lives.

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