Dan Kalman, an associate professor at Emory University, said the scientific community is in a crisis due to lack of funding and public awareness, and one way to curb it is to change the way science is taught in classrooms.
Kalman, who works in the department of pathology and laboratory medicine, said science education in schools today can be discouraging because it emphasizes “rote” memorization rather than experimentation.
“Teaching students how to think experimentally is what America has been really good at for a long time but it has been replaced in recent years,” Kalman said. “There are a lot of initiatives at the government level to improve science education and these include curriculum development as well as implementing curricula that has been developed into public schools.”
Currently, Kalman and his colleagues are partnering with Baylor University through a grant they received to bring that type of curriculum to The Friends School of Atlanta (FSA) in Decatur. The $30,000 grant from the National Institute of Health will be distributed over five years.
Waman French, head of the school located off Columbia Drive, said its relationship with Emory and Baylor will allow it to aspire to be a school with cutting-edge science and technology resources, and teacher training.
“That’s a long-term vision,” French said. “The short-term vision is to bolster our science program and to bring in other aspects of science, in particular, the fields of genetics.”
The Quaker school serves kindergarten through eighth grade students and has a mission of providing challenging academics in a diverse environment drawing on Quaker values.
French said there is a high level of excitement among students about a new class on microbes being offered during the school’s third quarter in January.
“We’re going to build on our experiences in this one program and developing this partnership with Emory and Baylor. The class will be offered through an exploratory as an elective…something that students will seek out because they want to be there,” French said.
Additionally, Kalman and French said that eventually the classes being offered at FSA will be used as a platform to train teachers in new science education. French said he was particularly excited about people the students, as well as the teachers, will have a chance to meet.
“They’ll be able to travel to labs and speak with experts in the field, and we will bring graduate students and experts to our school who will help conduct experiments…that’s an exciting area for us to develop, those community relationships that connect middle school students with professionals and their work places,” French said.
“Also, I think that developing a science curriculum should go much deeper than the typical middle school textbook,” French said.