Math and Science Educational Resource Availability, Part 1

[The first of two articles discussing the availability of math and science materials on the Internet.]

I heard it a lot in the 1980s and 1990s. It is now 20 years later and I still hear it:

Recent studies indicate the American educational system is failing to provide a sufficient level of math and science instruction for our children. Therefore, we are falling behind in the global race to prepare the next generation of engineers and scientists.

I’m not sure if it was true then; I’m not sure if it is true now. But, at the bottom line, it doesn’t matter what the studies indicate. What matters is that we DO something to address math and science education, whether we’re lacking in it or not. We need to provide the resources. I’d be saying the same thing even if all the studies ever conducted indicated that we were far and away providing the best math and science instruction on the planet. It’s pretty hard to get too much of a good thing. And keeping up with the latest technology is more than a full time job.

I have two suggestions:

  • Don’t look at education as a competition; look at it as an opportunity never to be squandered.
  • Don’t lay the entire burden for education solely on the American educational system; take the responsibility back into the home and other non-school activities.

Resources Abound

The Internet, by way of the World Wide Web, is now the ideal resource for locating materials to directly advance this goal. It’s a double win: the act of learning the computer technology required to search the Web for more technology is a success all on its own. The resources are out there. They’re not all that difficult to find. Once identified, the key is using them correctly.

The Hurdle of Preparing Lesson Plans

Despite an overwhelming and ever increasing number of resources, there is a fundamental flaw in expecting teachers within the structured educational system to fold the new and innovative elements of math and science into their classroom activities. The plain fact is, teachers are:

  • generally overworked with their current assignments;
  • expected to follow a strict set of standardized lessons that don’t allow for much deviation, and so limit innovation;
  • unable or unwilling to spend the extra time and money converting the “raw material” of the new and the innovative into classroom-ready presentations.

One solution to some of these fall-backs [in spite of all the “other stuff” that is out there on the Web just waiting to snare and entrap the innocent children from grade school and junior high] is to simply TURN THEM LOOSE! A risky proposition? Yes. So put in all the filters and site regulators that you feel are needed. But, for Pete’s sake, turn the students loose. Just point them in the right direction. There are some excellent sites that can keep them busy for weeks on end.

Another solution is to totally drop the expectation that high technology learning will ever be fully integrated into classroom curriculum and simply move forward. That’s where “content providers” come in. They are the ones capable of either developing materials that are a finished product for in-classroom use or for taking on the role of both developer and presenter. But without access to the classroom, the venue for this material presentation will be the Web itself.

An Introduction

Let me introduce you to one site that I’m personally familiar with…. because I’ve put it together myself for a specific purpose: to be an entry point for nearly countless educational web sites targeting aerospace and astronomy. It’s the website for The Aerospace Educational Development Program (AEDP) at http://www.AerospaceEd.org. Is it complete? Not by a long shot. It’s a work-in-progress. But already it has several areas that offer some premium math and science resources.

More details of this resource will be discussed in Part 2 of this two-part article.

Science Education – Making Science Fun

Every school in America is required to teach science. This is because science and scientific learning is a fundamental part of our existence. Most everything that we encounter on a day-to-day basis is, in some way, related to science. Even when we are sleeping, science is there to explain why we need to sleep and what takes place while we are sleeping. Because of this, science education is essential to life as we know it. Of course there will be many people who are happy to go through life without knowing how a bird can fly. Even given this fact, there will always be something that they will need to know and understand that is grounded in science. Even if it is something as simple as ‘fire is hot’ or ‘getting punched hurts. Science is there to explain these simple things too.

A good foundation in science through science education is required for all children, but the way that this education takes place is not strictly defined. With that said, many schools will take to science experiments using hands-on science products and supplies. This is an excellent way for students to ‘see’ the science around them. Often times learning from a book can be tedious and will cause students to become uninterested in the subject matter. A science experiment, however, is interactive and forces the students to take part in science learning. These projects don’t have to be complicated and will usually result in a much higher level of learning retention.

There are a few reasons why children better retain knowledge gained through scientific experimentation. One is it allows you to appeal to those children who are visual learners. These students are the ones who need pictures or demonstrations to remember things. Words just don’t stick in their minds as well, but when they can see a science demonstration or visualize an experiment, they can comprehend and retain the subject matter with much better success. Many students tend to thrive in science because it offers the visual aspect that many other subject matters do not.

Another reason that knowledge gained through science experimentation is retained longer by students is because they are actively engaged. They can’t simply skim through the experiment, they have to make sure that they are doing things correctly, and the only way to ensure that is by understanding what is going on. It forces students to understand the science behind what they are doing, and if they don’t, often times the experiment won’t turn out right.

Finally, hands-on science experimentation gives the student a sense of accomplishment. It is a reward of sorts, to have the experiment turn out correctly. That reassurance and sense of achievement at the end of each experiment will cause them to want to do more. It will also give them more confidence in what they are doing and possibly cause them to take up more science projects on their own. They will already be comfortable with the process they need to follow and will merely need their own ideas and theories to start their own projects. Even their own small science projects will increase their knowledge of how the world around them works and functions.

Science Education: What, When and Why?

Science education is a field that looks into teaching science to those who are not members of the scientific community. Subjects that are taught deal with life, earth and space and the information that is passed onto students through this course is intended to help them through in their entire high school education. Individuals belonging to various age groups can take up science education such as children, adults and also college students.

Various types of methodologies are used in the process of science education. These methodologies are borrowed from various branches of science such as anthropology, cognitive science, computer science and cognitive psychology. In the United States, the National Standards sets the standards for this education. The unique aspect about this standard is that it is more inquiry-based, than something that makes use of direct instruction. It is on the whole, found to be an effective model for teaching science, even though there are elements in that that some feel are a bit controversial.

One type of science education is informal education, wherein students learn outside their formal school curriculum. Such education is imparted through community-based programs. The media is a strong instrument in imparting informal science education and such information can be passed along through videos, various types of visuals and also print medium. Examples of informal education through media are TV programs such as Dragonfly TV, Bill Nye the Science Guy, The Magic School Bus and NOVA and that offered by community-based programs are Afterschool Programs and 4-H Youth Development programs.

Informal education plays an important role in imparting knowledge on science because it spread awareness in an informal setting, along with interesting visual aids and context-based voice-overs that make the subject easy-to-understand. It is an effective means for imparting science to people, without taking them into complex issues, while giving an overall understanding on the subject.