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Education today/Steve Patchin

Informal science education key to inspiring student achievement

May 8, 2012
The Daily Mining Gazette

Of all the 2011 high school graduates, 25 percent of those who took the ACT meet all four college readiness benchmarks, meaning they wouldn't have to take any remediation courses as college freshmen. In 1973 only 28 percent of workers age 25 to 54 needed had any type of post-secondary education, this according to the Georgetown Center in Education and the Workforce. By 2007, 59 percent of the workforce had taken at least some college courses. By 2018, New York state is predicting that 63 percent of its jobs will require post-secondary education, a trend that the rest of the states in the U.S. will follow. A vast majority of these jobs will require a science component in their curriculum and job function.

Informal science education is defined as learning science outside of a classroom setting. What students, adults and communities learn through these methods support efforts in the classroom In the past they have largely been ignored by the education establishment because their impact is difficult to measure. This viewpoint is beginning to change due to recent released studies.

In 2006, Dr. Robert H. Tai, a professor of University of Virginia's Curry School of Education in Charlottesville published a study in the journal of "Science." His study tracked thousands of students involved in the National Educational Longitudinal Study. His results found that students achieving average grades in their middle school years that expressed interest in science were two to three times more likely to complete degrees in science or engineering fields compared to students who had very good grades during their middle school years but had not expressed interest in science.

Further studies conducted recently have found that informal science education programs in the form of after-school programs, summer programs or engaging community events rich in science content produced two profound impacts on the students. First, they increased student's interest, confidence and achievement in mathematics and science. Additionally, they increased students' interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. The study also cited the importance of sustained exposure and participation over multiple years in various ISE programs.

The second annual USA Science and Engineering Festival was conducted April 27, 28 and 29 at Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C. It was a celebration of informal science education. More than 150,000 attendees and families explored the world of science with their hands and open minds. The focus was to engage participants in science, moving them to the "expressed interest" category indicated in Dr. Tai's study, thus increasing the odds that these students will choose to pursue an education and career involving science at some level.

These types of ISE opportunities are abundant in our community through organizations like the Girl Scouts of America, Boy Scouts of America, 4-H or BHK after-school and summer programs. There are also events like Family Science Nights, Family Engineering Nights, Science Fairs or the Mind Trekkers event at the Houghton County Fair. To make ISEs work for our students, we as parents, teachers, administrators, businesses and community members need to support these activities with our time, attendance and resources. If we each support informal science education opportunities in some way, we will have collaboratively inspired our youth to pursue the careers that will meet the workforce needs of tomorrow.

Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.



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