published May 1, 2006

SENCER E-Newsletter, May 2006, Volume 5, Issue 8

Senate Subcommittee Hearing Focuses on Making Science Relevant and Rigorous

Every child learns about the inner workings of volcanoes, but very few understand how a car works. Dr. Ioannis Miaoulis, President and Director, Museum of Science in Boston asked, "How often do we find ourselves inside a volcano? We are in our cars every day." Dr. Miaoulis's statement exemplified one of the themes that emerged from the Senate subcommittee on Technology, Innovation, and Competitiveness's hearing on Fostering Innovation in Math and Science Education - making science relevant and rigorous.

Participants in the SENCER Capitol Hill Seminar helped fill the room at the hearing focused on the importance of K-16 science and mathematics education in stimulating future developments in the 21st Century's high-tech innovation economy. Senators John Ensign (R-NV), George Allen (R-VA), and John Sununu (R-NH) heard testimony from and questioned witnesses Mary Ann Rankin, Dean of the College of Natural Sciences, University of Texas at Austin; Paul Dugan, Superintendent, Washoe County School District; Thomas N. McCausland, President and CEO, Siemans Medical Solutions USA, Inc.; and Ioannis Miaoulis, President and Director, Museum of Science in Boston.

Each witness discussed their respective contribution to fostering innovation in science education:

  • Dr. Rankin testified on the effectiveness of the UTeach teacher preparation program at the University of Texas at Austin and stressed the importance of "faithful replication of proven and successful programs."

  • Dr. Miaoulis said that as a result of the Museum of Science in Boston's promotion of engineering in K-12 curriculum through informal education, "not only are the kids having fun while learning, and the teachers are raving about the units, we have the data to show that we are busting some unfortunate myths children (and teachers) have about engineers and technology."

  • Mr. Dugan explained that the Washoe County School District has enacted a policy called the "Gateway Curriculum" that will require that all students will be automatically enrolled in 4 years of math and 3 years of science beginning in the fall of 2006. This represents an increase from the previously required 3 years of math and 2 years of science.

  • Mr. McCausland explained how Siemans is helping develop highly skilled and qualified scientists, mathematicians, and engineers through outreach, mentoring, awards, and scholarships.

The questions asked by the presiding senators emphasized their interest in making science and math education rigorous and relevant, supporting excellence and innovation in teaching, making better use of technology in the classroom, and increasing the numbers and success of women and minorities in the STEM disciplines and professions.

US Capitol

Following the hearing SENCER student and faculty participants said they were encouraged to learn that the issues that are important to the senators were the very same issues that their SENCER courses address. Later in the day, at the poster session, participants presented the ways that they are confronting these challenges to members of congress and their staffs.