Education Guidelines Fail to Inspire

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Science  31 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6136, pp. 1041
DOI: 10.1126/science.340.6136.1041-a

Seldom in the special section on Grand Challenges in Science Education (19 April, p. 290) do I see the words "inspiration" or "excitement."

The News story "Transformation is possible if a university really cares" (J. Mervis, p. 292) suggests starting "by asking what the faculty member wants students to know how to do at the end of the course" and approves of applying "basic concepts to real-life situations." That is suitable for an engineering course or for basic physics, but what if your goal for nonscience students is to foster inspiration, excitement about what they have learned, and enthusiasm for supporting science by reading newspaper or magazine articles on STEM topics or by voting for candidates who demonstrate scientific experience or understanding?

The Review "Physical and virtual laboratories in science and engineering education" (T. de Jong et al., p. 305) acknowledges the importance of enthusiasm by suggesting that actual labs are more successful than virtual ones in creating "young people who are skillful in and enthusiastic about science," but the article is aimed at those "who view science as their future career field."

Meanwhile, the Review "Outside the pipeline: Reimagining science education for nonscientists" (N. W. Feinstein et al., p. 314) describes the goal of "nonscientists who can access and make sense of science relevant to their lives." I agree that we want nonscientists to "judge the credibility of scientific claims," but I contend that teaching about exciting, mind-bending, and current results can inspire students to do better in all their studies, not just those in science courses.


I suggest adding several components to the list of Next Generation Standards listed in the Venn diagram in "Opportunities and challenges in next generation standards" (E. K. Stage et al., Education Forum, p. 276). Students should recognize that many scientific questions are currently unsolved. They should study current trailblazers and the sequence of discovery. Courses should emphasize the importance of current research. Each topic should end with a summary of some outstanding questions.

Without context, students may leave school thinking that physical science ended with Newton and that it isn't important to support our current research efforts. They may believe that scientific problems have been solved and can all be dealt with in classroom-quality laboratories.

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