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Science Alliances ‘Ballooning,’ Aided by Schools, Businesses

By Robert Rothman — January 10, 2020 3 min read

Next month, during National Science Week, more than 175,000 schoolchildren at 500 sites around the country will launch balloons, each with a tag indicating where it was launched.

The balloons will be retrieved by geologists and meteorologists, who will let the children know where they landed as part of an experiment to teach them about weather and wind currents.

The experiment is being sponsored by the Triangle Coalition, a one-year-old group linking businesses, scholars, and schools to promote precollegiate science and technology education.

“We are an action organization,” said John M. Fowler, director of the coalition. “We are not going to issue broad reports and task-force documents.”

Mr. Fowler, director of special projects for the National Science Teachers Association, runs the program with a small staff at N.S.T.A. offices in Washington. The coalition also has three honorary chairs, representing the three legs of the “triangle": Glenn T. Seaborg, university professor of chemistry at the University of California at Berkeley; Robert C. Forney, executive vice president, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Company; and Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association.

The balloon experiment is likely to be the coalition’s most public event, but the group also plans to distribute “activities packets” for 3rd-grade students, and to print a handbook and newsletter for local organizations interested in science-related school projects.

In addition, the coalition is planning a conference on elementary-level science education in the summer of 1987, and will hold five regional conferences in 1986 and 1987.

To support the coalition’s activities, the Carnegie Corporation last month awarded it a $250,000 grant. In addition, both the N.E.A. and the American Federation of Teachers signed on as members, providing institutional and dues-paying support.

“Things are looking very good right now,” Mr. Fowler said.

Local Alliances

The Triangle Coalition was established last July, when several science-education groups held a conference at Racine, Wis., for representatives of local alliances of business, higher-education faculty members, and schools. At the conference, the representatives expressed a desire to know more about what other school-community partnerships were doing, particularly those promoting science in schools. The alliances also sought advice on ways in which they could become more effective.

Since then, the coalition has discovered other alliances, and is developing ways to alert them to one another’s activities, and to what works and what does not, according to Mr. Fowler.

Although the coalition’s focus is on science and engineering, other kinds of partnerships can offer examples, he added.

Some examples include:

  • In Colorado, an alliance based at the University of Colorado links schools with businesses, which provide money and services, and colleges, which offer teacher training and the opportunity for science teachers to do graduate work in the summer.
  • In New Jersey, businesses offer summer internships for junior-high-school and high-school science teachers.
  • In California, an alliance between chambers of commerce and boards of education published a handbook, distributed to every chamber of commerce in the state, suggesting ways local businesses could contribute to schools.

According to Mr. Fowler, the national alliance will promote communication between the local groups. “Each one of the alliances is different,” he said. “They all are autonomous and they all run their own show.”

He added that the coalition could also assist in the formation of new alliances, both by providing examples of existing alliances and by offering contacts through member organizations. ''If a group in North Carolina wants to do something, we can put them in touch with the manager of the local DuPont plant, since DuPont is a member,” he said.

However, Mr. Fowler added, “we don’t have any direct funds to give them.”

Mr. Fowler said the coalition’s next goal is to encourage more businesses and professional groups to join. Besides providing annual dues to help support the coalition’s activities, members provide avenues to disseminate information and offer services. For example, he said, the balloon experiment is being sponsored by World Book Inc., with support from DuPont and the National Science Foundation.

But Mr. Fowler insisted that activities must take place at the local level. “That’s where the real difference is going to be made,” he said.

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