Taking Education Seriously: Integrating Research and Education

W hy is it important for scientists to contribute to science education?

Our nation has failed to meet important educational challenges, and our children are ill prepared to respond to the demands of today?s world. Results of the Third International Mathematics and Science Study ( TIMSS)--and its successor, TIMSS-R--show that the relatively strong international performance of U.S. 4th graders successively deteriorates across 8th- and 12th-grade cohorts. Related studies indicate that U.S. PreK-12 curricula lack coherence, depth, and continuity and cover too many topics superficially. By high school, unacceptably low numbers of students show motivation or interest in enrolling in physics (only one-quarter of all students) or chemistry (only one-half).

We are rapidly approaching universal participation at the postsecondary level, but we still have critical science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce needs and too few teachers who have studied science or mathematics. Science and engineering degrees as a percentage of the degrees conferred each year have remained relatively constant at about 5%. In this group, women and minorities are gravely underrepresented.

The consequences of these conditions are serious. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 60% of the new jobs being created in our economy today will require technological literacy, yet only 22% of the young people entering the job market now actually possess those skills. By 2010, all jobs will require some form of technological literacy, and 80% of those jobs haven?t even been created yet. We must prepare our students for a world that we ourselves cannot completely anticipate. This will require the active involvement of scientists and engineers.

How is NSF seeking to encourage scientists to work on educational issues?

The NSF Strategic Plan includes two relevant goals: to develop "a diverse, internationally competitive, and globally engaged workforce of scientists, engineers, and well-prepared citizens" and to support "discovery across the frontiers of science and engineering, connected to learning, innovation, and service to society." To realize both of these goals, our nation?s scientists and engineers must care about the educational implications of their work and explore educational issues as seriously and knowledgeably as they do their research questions. The phrase "integration of research and education" conveys two ideas. First, good research generates an educational asset, and we must effectively use that asset. Second, we need to encourage more scientists and engineers to pursue research careers that focus on teaching and learning within their own disciplines.

All proposals submitted to NSF for funding must address two merit criteria: intellectual merit and broader impacts.

In everyday terms, our approach to evaluating the broader impact of proposals is built on the philosophy that scientists and engineers should pay attention to teaching and value it, and that their institutions should recognize, support, and reward faculty, as well as researchers in government and industry, who take their role as educators seriously and approach instruction as a scholarly act. We think of education very broadly, including formal education (K-graduate and postdoctoral study) and informal education (efforts to promote public understanding of science and research outside the traditional educational environment).

What does it mean to take education seriously and explore it knowledgeably?

Any scholarly approach to education must be intentional, be based on a valid body of knowledge, and be rigorously assessed. That is, our approach to educational questions must be a scholarly act. NSF actively invests in educational reform and models that encourage scientists and engineers to improve curriculum, teaching, and learning in science and mathematics at all levels of the educational system from elementary school to graduate study and postdoctoral work.

We recognize that to interest faculty and practicing scientists and engineers in education, we must support research that generates convincing evidence that changing how we approach the teaching of science and mathematics will pay off in better learning and deeper interest in these fields.

Here are a few of the most recent efforts to stimulate interest in education that might be of interest to Next Wave readers. (For more information, go to the NSF Education and Human Resources directorate's Web site.)

The GK-12 program supports fellowships and training to enable STEM graduate students and advanced undergraduates to serve in K-12 schools as resources in STEM content and applications. Outcomes include improved communication and teaching skills for the Fellows, increased content knowledge for preK-12 teachers, enriched preK-12 student learning, and stronger partnerships between higher education and local schools.

The Centers for Learning and Teaching ( CLT) program is a "comprehensive, research-based effort that addresses critical issues and national needs of the STEM instructional workforce across the entire spectrum of formal and informal education." The goal of the CLT program is to support the development of new approaches to the assessment of learning, research on learning within the disciplines, the design and development of effective curricular materials, and research-based approaches to instruction--and through this work to increase the number of people who do research on education in the STEM fields. This year (FY 02) we are launching some prototype higher education centers to reform teaching and learning in our nation's colleges and universities through a mix of research, faculty development and exploration of instructional practices that can promote learning. Like other NSF efforts, the Centers incorporate a balanced strategy of attention to people, ideas and tools. We hope to encourage more science and engineering faculty to work on educational issues in both K-12 and in postsecondary education.

If you are interested in these issues and want to pursue graduate or postdoctoral study, or want to develop a research agenda on learning in STEM fields, find the location and goals of the currently funded centers and also check later this summer to find out which higher education CLT prototypes are funded.

The following solicitations all involve the integration of research and education as well as attention to broadening participation in STEM careers:

The Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Talent Expansion Program ( STEP) program seeks to increase the number of students (U.S. citizens or permanent residents) pursuing and receiving associate or baccalaureate degrees in established or emerging fields within STEM.

The Faculty Early Career Development ( CAREER) program recognizes and supports the early career development activities of those teacher-scholars who are most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.

The Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) program seeks to improve the quality of STEM education for all students and targets activities affecting learning environments, course content, curricula, and educational practices. CCLI offers three tracks: educational materials development, national dissemination, and adaptation and implementation.

The Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training ( IGERT) program addresses the challenges of preparing Ph.D. scientists and engineers with the multidisciplinary backgrounds and the technical, professional, and personal skills needed for the career demands of the future.

The Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences ( VIGRE) program supports institutions with Ph.D.-granting departments in the mathematical sciences in carrying out innovative educational programs, at all levels, that are integrated with the department?s research activities.

The Increasing the Participation and Advancement of Women in Academic Science and Engineering Careers (ADVANCE) program seeks to increase the participation of women in the scientific and engineering workforce through the increased representation and advancement of women in academic science and engineering careers.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Teacher Preparation ( STEMTP) program involves partnerships among STEM and education faculty working with preK-12 schools to develop exemplary preK-12 teacher education models that will improve the science and mathematics preparation of future teachers.

The Noyce Scholarship Supplements program supports scholarships and stipends for STEM majors and STEM professionals seeking to become preK-12 teachers.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Science Foundation.

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