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New Curriculum Seeks Scientific Literacy

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In a major departure from the traditional "science-by-discipline" approach, a group of chemistry teachers and researchers will this fall begin developing an interdisciplinary high-school chemistry curriculum designed around social issues.

Called "Chemistry in the Community: A Problem-Focused Course for High Schools," the project is sponsored by the American Chemical Society (acs) and funded by a $193,201, three-and-a-half-year grant from the National Science Foundation (nsf).

Focusing on issues like acid rain, hazardous-waste disposal, food supply, and food additives, the new curriculum will use chemical concepts as a basis for helping students understand and seek solutions for the technology-related problems of modern life, according to a spokesman for acs's Office of High School Chemistry. The course will be designed to enhance the "scientific literacy" of students who do not plan to continue their formal education, but it will also serve as an introductory chemistry course for college-bound students.

The progam is unusual, according to acs, because it includes not only chemistry but also economics, sociology, biology, toxicology, and other disciplines that are increasingly important in establishing public policy.

"You can't look at it as pure chemistry anymore," an acs spokesman says. "This approach will be especially relevant for the general student."

Such subjects as acid rain and chemical wastes are of general societal concern, the spokesman notes. "Each is a chemical issue about which we must make a societal decision."

"Chemistry in the Community" will be organized into a series of "modules," each of which will be based on one such social issue. Students will learn to identify problems, learn the chemical concepts involved, describe or propose solutions, and anticipate new problems resulting from proposed solutions.

Between 40 and 50 high-school chemistry teachers nationwide will be involved in both the writing and field-testing of the new course.

They will work under three "unit directors," who are university-based chemists and science educators.

Thomas Lippincott of the University of Arizona will be principal investigator for the project, which will be directed by Sylvia Ware, manager of acs's office of preprofessional programs.--S.W.

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