Science, Children’s Museums Invited To Compete for $6 Million inGrants

By Peter West — May 08, 1991 3 min read

Washington--A leading medical research organization is inviting science and children’s museums to compete for $6 million in grants for programs that will interest young children in science and improve scientific literacy among adults.

The nonprofit Howard Hughes Medical Institute, one of the nation’s largest funders of basic research in such areas as cell biology and immunology, announced last week that it will award a number of five-year grants ranging from $100,000 to $750,000 to museums in the spring of 1992.

The grants competition is open to all children’s and youth museums, general-science museums, and natural-history and natural-science museums.

The Precollege Science-Education Initiative for Science Museums represents a new direction for the Bethesda, Md.-based organization, which previously has supported undergraduate science-education programs, said Frank Blanchard, a spokesman for the institute.

The new initiative grows out of the conclusions of “Fulfilling the Promise: Biology Education in the Nation’s Schools,” a National Research Council report that was partially funded by the institute. That report called for more extensive links between science museums and elementary schools.

Dr. Purnell W. Choppin, the institute’s president, added that the effort is designed primarily to improve instruction for elementary- and middle-level students, “where special efforts to kindle an interest in science may pay big dividends.”

The program also is designed to attract more girls, as well as members of minority groups, into the sciences.

Teacher Training Resources

The announcement of the grant program coincides with the release of a report by the Washington-based Association of Science-Technology enters that suggests that science museums are often overlooked resources for the training of science teachers.

“Science centers have the potential to serve as ‘change agents’ of national significance in the national effort to improve science education both in and out of the schools,” ac cording to the report, “First Hand Learning: Teacher Education in Science Museums.”

The two-volume report, written L by Mark St. John, an independent California-based researcher, was presented to lawmakers here last L month during National Science and Technology Week.

It describes programs at nine science centers across the country--including the Exploratorium, in San Francisco; the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia; and the Discovery Place, in Charlotte, N.C.--as examples of how such museums can pro vide opportunities for preservice and inservice education.

The report also contains recommendations for improving the quality of services that science centers offer to educators.

Science centers, Mr. St. John argues, “are well-positioned to provide teachers with opportunities to learn science for themselves ... to develop curricula that broaden the modes of instruction in the classroom, and above all, to share a sense of science as an exciting and comprehensible activity of investigation and inquiry.”

According to the report, many science museums already are serving such purposes.

A 1986 association survey cited in the report indicated, for example, that 83 percent of the 103 respondent museums offered teacher inservice programs that reached approximately 47,000 teachers each year.

The survey also found that 88 percent of the institutions polled planned educational programs jointly with schools and that 66 percent offered curriculum materials.

The report argues that museums “can be viewed as ‘teaching hospitals’ [for preservice teachers] where interns focus on the act of teaching without worrying about classroom management and school structural issues.

Such an approach may be particularly effective in encouraging elementary-school teachers, a group of ten characterized as being “weak” in science, to become familiar with the way science and scientists work.

“It can be a very comfortable and safe environment,” said Mr. St. John.

The report also recommends ways in which science centers can improve their teacher-education programs, including serving as laboratories for pre-service teachers and focusing more attention on minority groups.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 08, 1991 edition of Education Week as Science, Children’s Museums Invited To Compete for $6 Million inGrants