Expert sees knowledge of science as civic duty
Science teachers must get kids "more intellectually involved" as well as excited about science so they can become informed adults on scientific issues, says a national leader in science education.
"Originally, the challenge was to get teachers to do more hands-on work to keep kids interested and excited about science," said Dr. Michael Padilla, University of Georgia science education professor.
Now the challenge is "focused on inquiry, getting them (students) to think like scientists," he said.
"In science education, we look at both ends of the spectrum," he said, from Ph.D. graduates and scientific leaders to citizens who understand science and can make decisions about issues such as global warming.
Padilla was the National Science Teachers Association president in 2005-2006 and was a member of the group that helped develop the National Science Education Standards.
He was keynote speaker at the Hawaii Science Teachers Association's spring conference April 14 at Hanalani Schools in Mililani.
Science teachers must change as society changes, he said in an interview. "We can't just be lecturer-experts. Kids won't tolerate that these days. We have to find ways to engage them, to get them involved in real problems so they can get excited about it."
Some winners at the recent state Science and Engineering Fair attended the conference to display their projects and answer questions.
"Some of those kids scare me; they're so smart," Padilla said. But science educators also must help kids turned off on science become productive citizens in a globalized world, he said.
"If we don't get our workforce engaged intellectually, we're going to be left behind," he added.
He noted an Atlanta project in which middle and high school teachers and university professors found that high-tech businesses and those requiring only a high school degree want the same kind of workers -- people who can think, participate in groups and solve problems.
"That is our challenge ... We've got kids with all kinds of backgrounds and level of ability. We have to deal with all of them. We can't leave half of them behind any more."