WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The American Geophysical Union is launching a fellowship program called STaRS (Science Teacher and Research Scientist) that will provide opportunities for pre-college science teachers to participate in research conducted by AGU scientists and for those scientists to participate in classes conducted by the science teachers. AGU hopes to offer at least 200 STaRS Fellowships throughout the United States beginning in December 1999.
The STaRS initiative is motivated by two concerns: the United States has not attracted enough scientifically-able young people to pre-college teaching, and scientists are not effectively involved in classroom activities.
According to John Dickey, AGU's Director for Education and Research, "One reason for the insufficient number of scientifically able pre-college teachers may be that, unlike pre-college teachers in the humanities and arts, science teachers are seldom able to pursue their own intellectual adventures. In spite of their demonstrated interest and abilities in science, science teachers rarely engage in research after they complete their university degree programs." This situation, he says, "is neither inevitable or immutable, nor is it true of teachers in other fields.
"Music teachers, for example, may be composers and performers in their own right; language arts and social studies teachers may be writers and scholars; art teachers may create and exhibit their work; but for various reasons, science teachers seldom engage in research. Of course, not all science teachers wish to do research, but many are interested and lack the opportunity," Dickey says.
"This lack of opportunity diminishes their professional lives, which discourages the next generation of potential teachers. Advanced science students sometimes ask why they should give up their enthusiasm for scientific inquiry to teach in a school if, instead, they could teach in a college and also share in the excitement and rewards of research," Dickey says. "For such students, the absence of opportunities to do science may be an overwhelming disincentive to a pre-college teaching career. STaRS addresses this problem by promoting research opportunities for teachers."
The other side of the equation, says Dickey, is that many scientists would like to share their research results with secondary school teachers and students, but have no way to do so. "In order to make a significant contribution," he notes, "scientists need to work closely with experienced teachers and to visit their classrooms regularly over an extended period of time. Few research scientists have been trained to teach, especially at the pre-college level. Many have not even entered a pre-college classroom since their own high school days. In any event, an isolated twenty minute appearance by a research scientist is unlikely to result in much learning among a group of typical students. STaRS addresses this problem by establishing a structured, continuing classroom role for scientists."
In addition to participating in on-going research projects under the direction of AGU scientists, STaRS Fellows will be required to engage their own students in related learning activities. These will include classroom visits by the scientists, student visits to the research sites, and interaction via e-mail and the Internet. In this way, continuing and productive intellectual bonds can be created among scientists, teachers, and students. In the ideal situation, the teacher would continue as a member of the research group even beyond the end of the formal Fellowship. In this way, the STaRS program would contribute to a significant redefinition and long-term enhancement of the secondary school science teaching profession.
According to Dickey, AGU hopes that other public and private organizations will embrace the STaRS concept. "The need surpasses what any one organization can fill," he says, "so we hope that other organizations will launch comparable programs. We also hope that funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, will create STaRS options so that scientists can add STaRS Fellows to their research teams."