Improving Science Education

Published February 1, 2001

After the results of the Third International Math and Science Study were released in 1998, raising concerns about the declining performance of U.S. students in science and math, a Maryland company launched an annual national science competition to address those concerns.

The Discovery Young Scientist Challenge is an effort by Discovery Communications Inc. to employ the same conceptual approaches to teaching science and learning that the TIMSS study and key educators recommend.

While scientific knowledge needs to be communicated and shared to have value, the company notes the skills necessary to communicate this knowledge often are overlooked in the pursuit of raw scientific data. To encourage the development of communication and comprehension skills, the Discovery competition emphasizes the students’ ability to communicate their scientific findings as well as judging students on the scientific merits of their projects.

The winner of this year’s top prize–a $10,000 scholarship–was 14-year-old Shana Matthews of Palm Bay, Florida, for her individual science project, “An Investigation of the Factors Affecting Colony Transformation Efficiency Rates.” Shana also won a rare-access trip to Midlothian, Scotland to meet the creators of Dolly, the cloned sheep, after submitting an essay noting her interest in genetic engineering due to her mother’s struggle with a degenerative eye disease.

Dr. Ray Ann Havasy, professor of science education at New York Institute of Technology, serves as a consultant to the Discovery Challenge competition and also works as an educational advisor for the Summit on Science program, a collaborative effort by organizations and corporations throughout the country to facilitate science education reform.

Another endeavor to improve U.S. science education is the “Making Science Make Sense” program, initiated by Bayer Corporation in 1992 to advance science literacy through inquiry-based, hands-on science learning, employee volunteerism, and public education. In Pittsburgh, Bayer’s efforts led to the formation of the Allegheny Schools Science Education and Technology (ASSET) initiative, a systemic science education reform initiative that has brought together local community partners to change the way teachers teach and students learn science.

The ASSET program is used in 34 of Allegheny County’s 43 school districts, as well as 35 school districts in eight surrounding counties. Like curricula used by high-scoring eastern countries, such as Japan and Korea, ASSET employs an inquiry-based, hands-on curriculum with an emphasis on continuing teacher professional development to hone both teaching style and science knowledge.