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N.S.T.A. and Monsanto Seek To Promote Reforms in Elementary Science Teaching

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WASHINGTON-- In an ambitions effort to improve elementary science teaching, several hundred science educators met here this month to develop a "tool kit" of techniques to help them implement change at the district level.

The National Science Teachers Association and the Monsanto Fund co-sponsored the invitational conference, "A Strategy for Change," as a first step in a long-term effort to improve the training of elementary school teachers.

The aim of the conference was to provide teachers with an in-depth overview of science-education reform efforts as well as with strategies designed to change conditions locally.

"We wanted to create some tools to help school systems to make decisions for themselves," said Phyllis Marcuccio, the N.S.T.A.'S head of elementary programs.

The meeting grew out of a partnership, announced last March at the N.S.T.A.'s annual meeting in Houston, between the philanthropic arm of the St. Louis-based chemical company and the science teachers' association.

"As a science company, we have a very strong interest in education, and we have stumbled upon the reality that, if young people are exposed to science early, there's a strong possibility that they'll like it," said John Mason, a former research chemist for Monsanto and the president of the Monsanto Fund.

Charting a Reform Course

The meeting brought together more than 30 four-person teams-made up of a classroom teacher; a "decisionmaker," such as a principal or superintendent; a facilitator, whose job it will be to keep reform on track; and a parent, schoolboard member, or local business leader.

The teams underwent three days of intensive briefings from leading researchers, educators, and lawmakers to help them identify obstacles to change and to plot reform courses that they could take back to their districts.

They also played a role-simulation game designed to help them better understand, and then to avoid, the obstacles to reform.

"It got very interesting because the people who are in there doing this are people who are part of the problem," Ms. Marcuccio said. "The business and industry people who came couldn't understand [at first] why [reform] is such a problem. It was very helpful for them."

The participants also learned about model science programs--in such districts as Mesa, Ariz., Trumansburg, N.Y., and Chapel Hill, N.C.--as well as a professional-development program developed at the University of Michigan. They were also briefed on the curriculum framework for science developed by the state of California.

Several speakers also noted that, while educators can learn much from practicing scientists, they should not feel inferior to those whose work is outside the classroom.

"There's nobody in industry who I've met who could have taught in the classroom," said James VanSweden, a former elementary-school teacher who now works for the Up~john Company of Kalamazoo, Mich.

In the coming year, Ms. Marcuccio said, Monsanto officials will follow the progress of the reform efforts developed as a result of the conference.

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