Archive for the ‘science education’ Category

Elementary Students Become “Dentists for a Day”


 Valeria Alvarez and Angie Carmen cover the walnuts in the junk food mixture.

Valeria Alvarez and Angie Carmen cover the walnuts in the junk food mixture. Credit: Laura Mackin/BUGSDM

Meet the dental profession’s latest entrants.

Geared in white scrubs, masks and purple gloves, third-graders from Blackstone Elementary School in Boston spent part of their morning learning about the benefits of applying dental sealant, a thin, plastic film that dentists paint on teeth to prevent decay.

Students were handed two walnuts or “teeth” and a mixture of green goo to represent food and bacteria. Both of the walnuts, one with dental sealant and one without, were covered with the green mixture. The children then tried to brush off the mixture from the walnuts.

“This exercise lets the children see how a sealed “tooth” will repel junk food more easily, while the food gets caught in the grooves of the unsealed “tooth,” says Jackie Rubin, a spokesperson for the Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine.

All watching a computer monitor for the next instructions, the students performed their morning project in the School’s Simulation Learning Center, one of the most advanced spots for dental education in the city. Each year, the entire third-grade class from Blackstone Elementary come here to become “Dentists for a Day,” ridding walnuts of decay, working on dummy patients and participating in other oral health activities.

“Blackstone is a school that’s right in our area in the South End, we’ve had a relationship for several years,” Rubin says. The School also visits Blackstone annually as part of Smart Smiles, a school-based oral health initiative to provide free oral health education, screenings, and dental sealants to thousands of children in Boston Public Schools.

Aside from the public health aspect, Rubin says programs like “Dentists for a Day” and Smart Smiles could entice children into dentistry. According to the American Dental Association, the number of dentists entering the profession is diminishing. “Pipeline programs are one way we can interest young children who may not have considered a career in health sciences,” Rubin says.

Denis Herrera removes his examination gloves, turning them inside out so bacteria does not spread

Denis Herrera removes his examination gloves, turning them inside out so bacteria does not spread. Credit: Laura Mackin/BUGSDM

Posted by Joseph, under science education  |  Date: June 10, 2008

A Business Lesson in Teaching Science


Knowatom Teacher Sophia Kruszewski

KnowAtom teacher Sophia Kruszewski explains wind turbines. (Credit: Francis Vigeant.)

First-graders in one of Mr. V’s after-school science classes can tell you all about F-5 tornados. After a short lesson emphasizing vocabulary, students receive a couple of empty soda bottles, glitter and a liter of water. Using these materials, each child builds his own underwater tornado and soon terms such as vortex and debris are flying throughout the room.

Mr. V., known outside the classroom as Francis Vigeant, 24, is in the business of demystification. As co-founder and program director of KnowAtom North Shore, LLC, he oversees the development of curriculum and projects that explain scientific concepts such as thermodynamics, chemical reactions and cell biology to kids. Once a one-person show starring Vigeant, the company now sends teachers to 31 elementary and middle schools for after and in-school programs.

For a child to take part in a 10-week afterschool class with a dozen other student costs $225, but parents are willing to pay the money because of the substance of the product says Vigeant. Based on the topic of the class, each child leaves with their own hand-made projects, which range from soda-bottle tornados to balloon thermostats. The materials are gathered from recycled materials and housed in a 4,000 square foot space in Essex, MA, which accounts for half the cost of the class.

The fee also covers teacher rates. KnowAtom currently has seven teachers covering locations throughout Massachusetts and New Hampshire. All have backgrounds in science and education, and after being trained earn competitive wages, they are responsible for traveling to their assignments, studying the topic of the day and structuring project building time.

Parents also pay for the work done by Vigeant’s behind-the-scenes team: A four member work crew assembles classroom kits and preps materials. Artists illustrate posters to accompany the lessons. Others check with the state’s science education standards to ensure content both within and above what is expected of the average student. They also write the handouts students receive as further reading if they want to learn more about a topic at home.

Being a company that works with children using hot glue guns and hammers, a less obvious expense for KnowAtom is insurance. Many companies rejected Vigeant’s unusual concept before he found one that takes risks on unique businesses. Though there has never been an incident he pays nearly $40,000 a year, which is also accounted for in the fee.

While Vigeant does not see his company as replacing the science educators currently in schools, he does see it as a meaningful and efficient way for a school to spend money implementing a science curriculum. With future growth, KnowAtom hopes to offer extracurricular classes for lower-cost to students who wouldn’t normally be able to attend. “We aren’t benefiting unless we’re benefiting others,” says Vigeant. “If a parent is willing to give us their child for an hour and fifteen minutes that is not an investment we take likely. We reinvest that into the world.”

Posted by Joseph, under business, science education  |  Date: June 3, 2008

Science Lab 2.0


"In general, undergraduate students experience lab as one more thing they have to do to get through a required science course. Students have called the experience a meaningless cookbook exercise that forced them to go through steps they didn't understand as a way to explain a theory they didn't care about. We decided to do something about this problem, and address student's concerns."

–VisionU Rationale

Undergraduate science lab components are getting an upgrade at Boston University’s College of General Studies. Two natural science professors are downloading an important new component, one sometimes left out of the traditional program – Fun!

Well, more than fun they hope. “My ultimate objective is that they are learning something,” says Professor Karina Baum, a molecular biologist, who along with her colleague Professor Samuel Hammer, teach hundreds of non-science majors per semester.

To make biology lab more relevant, Drs. Baum and Hammer are asking their students to communicate science in visual and interesting ways. Students break into groups and have the option to use hands-on microscopes, (“The ones you see in C.S.I.” says Dr. Baum), or attach their digital cameras microscopes and produce quality pictures and video. Instead of writing a traditional lab report, with an objective, hypothesis, results and conclusion, groups can choose to edit a video so that anyone can watch their work and understand what the lab was about. The finished products are uploaded onto YouTube, where they are viewed and commented on by classmates and professors.

“We as scientists, we see things. We see action and results. Instead of telling something, why don’t you record it,” says Dr. Baum, who describes herself as a visual learner. “We saw a little bit of growth? Show me how the thing grows. It’s more realistic.”

This way of teaching, dubbed VisionU (Visualizing Science in our Non-major Undergraduates) is an experiment of its own. When they received the 2006 Boston University Instructional Technology Grant to fund the project, Drs. Baum and Hammer conducted a pre-survey of what students were taking away from their classes. They haven’t done the post-survey yet, but judging from students’ reactions, they expect good results.

Dr. Baum predicts that this pro-tech approach to science and learning is the way things are moving. She does note, however, a division between professors at Boston University on the value of the Web. She sees it as having advantages and disadvantages, but the Internet is undoubtedly a technology that students are comfortable with. Out of the 100 groups she ask asked to upload videos, only one didn’t know how.

“This is something new. I still have a lot to learn, but it has been a positive experience,” says Dr. Baum. “It makes me see that the same set of data can be presented in so many different ways.”

For more examples of their work, visit the Team T Bioblog.

Posted by Joseph, under science education, video  |  Date: March 21, 2008

AAAS: Science for Tomorrow’s Citizens


American universities, concerned that their students are not being prepared to confront the scientific issues of the 21st century, such as climate change and personal genetics, are experimenting with new ways to make science classes relevant for the 98% of the population who choose not to become scientists.”We’re preparing people to read the Tuesday New York Times 20 years from now,” said Jon D. Miller, a professor at Michigan State University. Miller, along with science educators from George Mason University and the National Academy of Science spoke this afternoon at a AAAS symposium addressing how to teach science to tomorrow’s citizens.

This is a bigger task than it sounds. A 2005 study showed under a third of Americans can correctly answer what a proton is or explain why the Earth is warm in the summer and not in the winter, an improvement from just under a tenth of Americans in 1988. Scientific literacy, defined in today’s symposium as the knowledge people assume you possess about science or technology, is improving in the United States, but it may not be fast enough to deal with tomorrow’s policy challenges.

Educators, like George Mason University professor James Trefil, believes students become disenchanted with science because of the way it is taught in college. He doesn’t believe science should be presented as sections of facts to memorize, but rather as big ideas that can be applied across disciplines. It disturbs him when a first-year student is asked what’s the most important thing to learn in science, and she responds the steps of the Kreb’s cycle, which describes how cells use oxygen to create energy.

“The goal is not to produce students who can do science,” Trefil said. “I don’t have to perform music to appreciate it.”

He also believes math and mandatory lab components are also of little use to obtaining science literacy.

“What are kids getting from lab that will help them deal with that polar bear?” he asked, referring to the infamous 2006 TIME Magazine global warming cover story displaying the words, “Be Worried, Be Very Worried.”

While there were some differences in the specifics of what needs to change, all the speakers agreed that the way we teach science now prepares students for society in the time of Galileo instead of Craig Venter, one of the scientists who played a large role in the Human Genome Project.

Strategies to improve college science class include making classrooms learner-centered, which bases lessons around problems rather than a curriculum, and transforming traditional introductory science courses into a liberal-arts form. The speakers also emphasized the need for cultural change in academia. This could be done by hiring good teachers instead of good researchers and giving more attention to non-science students.

Whether or not these tactics work is currently being quantified by University of Michigan researchers keeping track of the progress in scientific literacy made by their student body of 7,000, whether they are exposed to one learner-centered introductory science class or are biology majors. The results should be ready in time for next year’s conference.

Posted by Joseph, under AAAS, science education  |  Date: February 16, 2008
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