IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Science Discovery presents a modern face to future scientists
Just over 25 years old, CU-Boulder’s venerable Science Discovery program has been around long enough to see some of its former students become instructors for the program, parents of current students and avid supporters.
Science Discovery began in 1983 as a pilot program of 10 summer classes at Fiske Planetarium. Over the years, after-school classes, classroom presentations throughout Colorado, statewide professional development for teachers, Wilderness Camps and an environmental education program were added. Science Discovery annually serves an estimated 25,000 students and 1,200 teachers statewide and now offers over 200 summer classes on the Boulder campus. In 2006, Science Discovery welcomed Jeffrey Kidder as its new director.
Science Discovery stimulates scientific interest and promotes scientific understanding and literacy among Colorado’s youth, teachers and families by interfacing with university resources and academic expertise. As Kidder explained, “We connect the science wealth of the university by giving teachers and students access to our science resources. By opening our laboratories and classrooms to the larger public, we in effect become an enormous science center.”
Central to the program is collaboration with science faculty, graduate students and researchers. “Rather than create science curricula ourselves, we are working with university science professionals to share their expertise and research with students and teachers,” Kidder said. “Our goal is to do more and more with faculty and less and less on our own.” Science Discovery currently collaborates with dozens of faculty and researchers (see sidebar).
One of the great rewards of working with Science Discovery is getting to see the impact on the kids in the programs. Talking about the Alpine Ecology Program, Wilderness Camps Director Deb Kulcsar said she shared the CU Mountain Research Station with Denver students “who look at the mountains every day but had never been there before.”
Science Discovery works to ameliorate the shortage of scientists and IT workers in the United States. “While the demand for IT workers is growing, the supply is dropping at alarming rates,” said computer science Professor Alexander Repenning, who shares a grant with Science Discovery. “Our approach balances educational and motivational concerns of computer science in a way that is attractive to many children, including girls and minority students.”
Boulder Valley School District middle-school teacher Andy Feeney attended his third Science Explorers workshop with his sixth-grade science classes on Feb. 25. He said this year’s topic, “(Em)powering the Future: Kids Exploring Renewable and Alternative Energy,” is especially interesting to his students because their school, Manhattan Middle School, got solar panels and wind turbines this year.
The students met with Science Discovery instructors and conducted hands-on experiments using wind power, solar energy and alternative fuels. Feeney said students’ interaction with “real, live scientists” changes their perception of the field. Before Science Explorers, when students were asked to draw a picture of a scientist, most drew an Einstein-type figure. Science Explorers broadens that view.
Kidder agreed. “We put a very human face on the whole science enterprise. You think about the stereotypes we have about scientists . . . so when a woman or a person of color comes in the classroom as a science expert, it really breaks that stereotype.”
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