Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Outreach: Why High School Teachers Matter

One of the materials science professional societies, ASM (which used to stand for the American Society of Metals, but now just stands for ASM), runs a series of camps for high school teachers to learn about materials science. It's a multi-year program, and for a week each year, they learn about some of the basics of MSE, and do experiments they can take back into their own classrooms. While the NSF Broader Impact criterion typically seem like they encourage K-12 outreach by working with students, I think working with the teachers can make more sense.

  • Teachers are more enthusiastic and interested learners. If you have a group of 30 teachers, you have a group of 30 people who probably want to be there. If you have a group of 30 high schoolers, you probably have 2-3 who really want to be there, and at least one who would rather be *anywhere* else.

  • One teacher reaches hundreds of students. Teaching 30 teachers about science, and what scientists do, potentially reaches thousands of kids over years. Working directly with students reaches those students, and  some of their peers. 

  • Teachers can tie in new concepts into the curriculum much more effectively, because they know what else is actually covered.
This is not to say that I think we should stop running student-directed outreach in the slightest. Summer science camps are a fantastic thing, and many of my peers went into engineering because of similar experiences. It also gives kids a chance to explore an area that may not be feasible for their school to have a program in, due to demand/budget/classroom space. However, teaching teachers is a great way to reach a wider audience. For a field like MSE, which many students don't even know exists until partway through college (and some not  until they've graduated and gotten a job), having potentially interested kids know the field exists is a pretty good start.

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