Information Age Education Blog
A Successful Community Project for Improving Science Education
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This IAE Blog entry is about two retired scientists, Robert Collins and Cal Allen, who got to talking about (bemoaning) the state of precollege education in their small town of Sisters, Oregon. In January, 2011, they decided to do something about it.
Sisters, Oregon, is a town of about 2,000 residents, located in the Cascade Mountains of central Oregon. It was once a logging town, and now survives on tourism and grass farming (to produce grass seeds).
What They Did
Here is a brief outline of what they did and what was accomplished as a result. For more detail see (Collins, Allen, and Schulz, 7/27/2014).
- Met with the Superintendent of Schools to discuss their ideas and to get permission to visit schools and talk to teachers. This led to the Superintendent scheduling a meeting with Collins, Allen, and the district’s science teachers.
- Assessed the region’s science-related resources. Quoting from their article, “Sisters attracts many retiring scientists, engineers, and teachers who seek a place of natural beauty with hiking, fishing, golf and skiing. Knowing many retirees, we invited them, one by one, to coffee and shared our plan.” Notice this one-on-one, highly personal approach.
- Started a group that had no employees, membership fees, or regular meetings. Instead, it had a website, and people became members of the group by joining an email list. In five months it grew to have 50 members. It now has more than 350 members.
- Established the Sisters (Oregon) Science Club. The Science Club Board has seven teachers and six community members, and meets at least once a year.
- Determined that a very high priority was to send some teachers to the annual National Science Teachers Association Conference (NSTA). This was great for the teachers and brought in new ideas. The district now has annual science teacher professional development sessions to continue to foster the learning and sharing that came through teachers attending the NSTA meeting.
- Began systematic fund-raising activities and events. The events include speakers and an annual science fair, a high school math club, a middle school math and robotics club, and an after-school Discovery Lab at the elementary school level. They now raise $30,000 to $50,000 per year.
Each school receives $5,000 a year for discretionary science and math spending. In addition, funds have been made available for science equipment and for other major projects such as restoring a greenhouse.
The district’s science test scores have gone up. Quoting from the Collins, Allen, and Schulz article:
But we’d be the last to claim a statistically significant cause and effect for our club. In sum, a community science club has found value and great pleasure working to enhance science and math in the schools and community. In a nation with very few scientists among state and national elected officials, where policy debates are often shockingly uninformed, and where the lay media dumbs down science daily, we’ve found that a local community science club can make a difference.
What You Can Do
Publicize the ideas in this IAE Blog entry! Actively seek out the small number of volunteers needed to get such a project started. Keep in mind my favorite quote:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” (Margaret Mead; American cultural anthropologist; 1901–1978.)
Suggested Readings from IAE
Moursund, D. (2014). Brain science. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/30 2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Brain_Science.
Moursund, D. (2014). Improving math education. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/30 2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/Improving_Math_Education.
Moursund, D. (2014). What is science? IAE-pedia. Retrieved 7/30/2014 from http://iae-pedia.org/What_is_Science.
Moursund, D. (9/9/2013). Thinking and acting globally. IAE Blog. Retrieved 7/30/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/thinking-and-acting-globally.html.
Moursund, D. (6/7/2013). 21st century skills. IAE Blog. Retrieved 7/30/2014 from http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/entry/21st-century-skills.html.
Moursund, D. & Sylwester, R. (2013). Creating an appropriate 21st century education. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Download a PDF file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/243-creating-an-appropriate-21st-century-education.html. Download a Microsoft Word file from http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/242-creating-an-appropriate-21st-century-education.html.