Fifty years ago on October 4th, the Russians launched Sputnik, the first human-made satellite, into space. There were a lot of great articles about the anniversary in the NY Times science section this morning, but I was especially interested in this one article that talked about how science education was affected by the events. The article talks about how in the wake of learning about the soviet advancement, science teachers started to really think about how to involve their students in chemistry, biology and physics in order to stimulate interest in scientific careers. The article goes on to tell about how science education has fallen back into some of the old routine and that even though Bush says he wants to make America competitive in the sciences, the No Child Left Behind emphasis on testing really can get away from hands on activities and experimentation.
In the article, Dr. Shirley Malcolm says that “students should be given the chance to do real research — to experience framing a question, deciding what kind of evidence is relevant and figuring out how to collect it. ‘I’m not saying there’s not drudgery in science,’ she said, ‘but when you get to the point where all the data are sitting in front of you and you start seeing patterns and nature begins to speak — that’s a kick.'”
Here’s a link to the article.
Interestingly enough, Frank Oppenheimer was a High School science teacher in 1957 (the same year Sputnik launched for those of you bad at math like myself). I found a great speech that he gave to the PTA as a teacher on the explo website. Even though the Exploratorium wasn’t started until a few years later, you can really see how his ideas of exciting curiousity and teaching problem solving carry over to the museum. It’s as if he caught the bug of dynamic science teaching and never let it go. It’s neat to think about how the Exploratorium fits in with the overall science cirriculum of the country. I think that we all would agree that we represent a pretty ideal situation, isolated from many of the challenges in the classroom. But I hope that we can help to inspire people to try new things, show both kids and adults that science doesn’t have to be scary, and land a man on the moon in the next decade.