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Educators, parents seek to boost interest in science

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The president and vice president of the Saint Louis Science Center were in town Monday to speak with local elementary, middle school and University-level teachers.

The Science Center, in a financial partnership with Montgomery Bank, is looking for ways to engage children in science. Local teachers gave officials ideas ranging from a mobile classroom set to a sponsored science fair to teacher extension courses.

Much of the discussion centered around how to get families and the community involved in ways similar to sports and theater.

"If there was a way to use this for families to see the joy of science and all this that's going on, that would really be great," said Russel Grammer, who teaches fourth grade at Jefferson Elementary School.

Teachers bemoaned the fact that the Cape Girardeau area not only has no First Robotics competition but does not even have a high school-sponsored science fair. These hands-on competitions are often what get children and families excited about science, teachers said.

"It would be nice to have something set up in a way to have these kids understand this is important and fun and exciting," said Jackie Wortman of the NASA educator resource center at Southeast Missouri State. "To make them say 'I do want to go to the moon,' or 'I do want to be a teacher.'

Educators were responding to a question posed by Carol Valenta, who asked, "If resources didn't matter, what would make a difference if the science center was going to be engaged and working and supporting you in your classroom?"

One creative idea was to pair children with university-level students to be sent out in the field or tasked with experiments in the classroom. Another idea called for the science center to create DVDs or Internet resources that could be accessed by classes.

No teachers specializing in high school-level science attended the meeting. Spark-learning or hands-on learning tends to work best when it's focused on lower grades, the teachers said.

"Research shows that elementary and middle school is the time to probe that interest," said Dr. Ernest Kern of NASA.

Kern recommended focusing efforts from the meeting on grades two through eight.

Valenta said the Science Center, which averages 1.2 million visitors annually, and is one of only two free centers of its kind in the United States is eager to reach out to Southeast Missouri.

"When we're working together we can always figure something out. Whether that means you're going to the Science Center or we're coming to you, there is going to be something," she said. "You're going to have to plan this with us."

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245


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