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Polled Scientists Give Thumbs-Up to Reforms

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A majority of American scientists responding to a new poll said they have little or no awareness of national projects to improve science education. But most said they would approve of the inquiry-based, hands-on approach reformers are encouraging.

Many of the scientists, though, would also like to see a continuation of some traditional methods of teaching and learning, particularly for high school students, according to the national survey released last week.

On average, the scientists--1,435 Ph.D. holders who are members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science--gave the quality of science education only average grades: a C-minus for elementary school and a C for high school.

Ninety-five percent of the scientists said elementary schools should focus their resources on teaching science to all pupils regardless of the likelihood that they'll go on to science careers. A smaller proportion, however, believed that about high schools. Seventy-seven percent said high schools should teach science to all, while 20 percent said high schools should focus on the most promising students who are likely to have careers in science.

Mentor and Lecture

At least seven in 10 scientists said the elementary and high school curricula should have "a lot" of the following: teachers acting as guides and mentors instead of lecturing; students carrying out experiments and formulating their own results; and students thinking critically, testing assumptions, and questioning common opinion.

But even as 75 percent of scientists said they would like to see "a lot" of teachers acting as guides for high school students, 61 percent said they'd like to see "a lot" of lectures given by teachers covering major topics.

The scientists were divided about the merits of having students work extensively in cooperative groups or individually and about whether they should cover a limited number of topics in depth or acquire basic knowledge in a wide range of topics. Even high school students should acquire "a lot" of basic knowledge about many topics, 55 percent of the scientists said.

The poll is the fourth in a series of science-related polls sponsored by the Pittsburgh-based Bayer Corp. The survey was conducted from January through March by Roper Starch Worldwide. Questionnaires were mailed to a representative, random sample of 2,500 AAAS members from the physical and biological sciences, mathematics, and engineering.

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