|FROM THE EDITOR||September 1999|
The National Academy of Sciences’ 1996 release of its National Science Education Standards caused the type of community discussion on science education not heard since Sputnik circled on high. “All of us have a stake, as individuals and as a society, in scientific literacy,” says Richard Klausner, Chairman of the National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment, and Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences, in the “Call to Action” introducing the Standards. We must all be vigilant and support the academy’s goal of helping all students achieve scientific literacy. Now, with the inclusion of earth science in the Standards, geoscientists can embrace the cause.
Inquiry-based learning provides the “minds-on experiences” of observing, inferring, and experimenting. This deeper approach gives students the skills that will not only educate them, but keep them thinking and turn them into lifelong learners. Whether the excitement of geoscience captures a student’s mind and she becomes a geologist, geomorphologist, hydrologist, geochemist, or geobiologist isn’t the point. The goal is for students to experience the breadth of earth science, to see themselves in the world within a realistic context, and to understand what they’re walking on.
In this issue, we examine some of the educational initiatives the Standards have inspired. To start, we see how a group of educators and media experts are using computers in the classroom. Kent Kirkby (University of Minnesota) and colleagues describe the risks and advantages of teaching with computers. Designing an electronic component that meets the expectations of teachers and students is always challenging. Lessons must satisfy the teacher’s curriculum, engage the student, and, at the same time, function on a variety of computer platforms. Cost-conscious textbook publishers tell us that computer-based curricula must be cost effective or they can’t be sustained. We’ll learn of the pitfalls and rewards of these educational experiments.
Barbara Tewksbury, chair of the geology department at Hamilton College, poses two critical questions: How do we recruit majors into geoscience departments? And, what should we teach students to prepare them for the multidisciplinary careers they will have in the coming century? Tewksbury suggests that, under the threat of dwindling departments, geoscience professors should present the geoscience degree as a stepping stone for a variety of professional careers. By learning about Earth, geoscience students will become better-informed citizens. However, in order to make this strategy work, geoscience faculty must stop viewing as failures the geology majors who don’t pursue graduate school in the geosciences.
Also proposing changes in university geoscience departments is Robert Ridky, associate professor of geology at the University of Maryland and a past program director at the National Science Foundation. He offers a solution for creating a corps of quality geoscience teachers. The country may need almost 2 million new teachers over the next six years. Ridkey suggests adding teaching courses and certification to undergraduate geology programs for students interested in science education. The students can graduate as science majors and we’ll have a better source of qualified teachers to serve the legions of future learners.
In our last feature, Michael Passow, who teaches earth science at the White Plains Middle School in White Plains, N.Y., looks at the changes in high school geological pedagogies over the past three decades and the modern use of the Web for education. Passow has braved many a reform initiative and, like many teachers, has an opinion to share about the “trickle-down” effect that national reform initiatives have in states and districts. Now, with more state legislators demanding accountability, educators must ensure that all students receive the science training that will help them secure work in coming decades. The new Standards have established a baseline. Realizing them is a challenge for each of us. Good reading.
Victor V. van Beuren, Editor, Geotimes
Michael J. Smith, Director of Education, American Geological Institute