N.S.F. Funding 'Science and Society' Program

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The National Science Foundation this month awarded a three-year $800,000 grant to Pennsylvania State University's Science, Technology, and Society program to help introduce science and technology issues into the nation's high schools.

The grant will enable Penn State faculty members to disseminate information about existing programs and materials--including some designed for college students--that could help high-school science teachers to incorporate social and technological issues into their classes, according to Rustum Roy, chairman of the university's 15-year-old sts program and principal investigator on the grant.

The faculty will also develop new prototype materials with the help of national science and education groups, secondary-school teachers, and other university professors, Mr. Roy said.

Part of Broader Effort

The grant is one of 30 or 40 that the National Science Foundation has approved thus far as part of its $54.7-million precollege education budget for fiscal 1984, according to Robert F. Watson, deputy director in the nsf's division of precollege education in science and mathematics.

The Penn State grant is the only nsf grant so far this year to focus solely on incorporating technological and social issues into the science curriculum, Mr. Watson said. It is part of nsf's broader effort to improve science and mathematics education through the development of teaching materials and the upgrading of instructors' skills.

"We want to create technologically literate citizens," said Mr. Roy."The whole of modern U.S. cul-ture is profoundly affected by science and technology, but 95 percent of the citizens simply cannot understand the rudiments of the issues."

Away From 'Pure' Science

Most high-school science courses focus on "pure" science with little reference to technology, according to Mr. Roy. By linking scientific knowledge to pressing social issues, the sts effort aims to motivate more students to pursue studies in science, he said.

Science, technology, and society programs might involve the study of such topics as acid rain, rising medical costs, nuclear power, and genetic engineering, he said. In the process, students would be introduced to basic science processes, such as how bases neutralize acids and the role of DNA in cell formation.

"Only by teaching science and technology in this context can we truly expect the American public to become interested in and retain the basic concepts," said Mr. Roy.

Longstanding Concept

The idea of including social issues in the science curricula is not new, according to researchers. As early as the turn of the century, educators were concerned that the science curriculum was inappropriate for students whose education would end after high school, and tried to expand their studies to include information on public health and hygiene.

However, in the past 20 years, science classes have largely ignored the relationship between science and social issues, according to Mr. Roy and others.

In an official 1982 position paper, the National Science Teachers Association said the biggest gap in high-school science education was the failure to focus on issues related to technology and society.

Similarly, the National Science Board's Commission on Precollege Education in Mathematics, Science, and Technology stated in 1983 that "there is now a glaring absence of technology education in American4schools." The commission called on the National Science Foundation to help develop new curricula in this area.

Paying more attention to the interplay between science and society "would enhance science for all students, not just those who will be scientists and engineers," said Bill G. Aldridge, executive director of the nsta "This type of curriculum will be essential if you're going to have science for everybody."

Looking for Models

The first step in carrying science and technology issues into the high-school classroom, Mr. Roy said, will be to determine which college-level materials can be adapted for use by high-school students.

The integration of technological issues into the science curriculum is farther ahead in Britain, where teams of university professors have spent the last five years developing materials suitable for high-school and grade-school students, according to Mr. Roy. Bill F. Williams of Leeds University, a leader of the Science, Technology, and Society Project in England, will be a consultant to the Penn State project.

Vol. 03, Issue 36

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