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Giving science its due

At a time when educationalists and politicians around the country are despairing about how to get more students to study science and technology in college, those like Leslie Smith think the solution may lie in teaching science in a more engrossing way.

“Most elementary level teachers do not have a strong enough background in science content and therefore are limited in the approach they take to teaching science,” said Smith, the science resource coordinator at the Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Office. “What happens then is that they rely on textbooks and it becomes a read-the-chapter and answer-the-questions method of teaching and that doesn’t inspire students to learn the subject.”

Smith said science took a backseat in classroom education in the 1990s when state-mandated tests, which regulates state funding to schools, focused on language and math.



The results have been far-reaching.

“Many students come to high school without a proper foundation in science,” Smith said. “Without the basic skills, they find the science courses difficult and therefore lose interest in the discipline.”




Smith laments many of them are creative thinkers, and could well have been good scientists if only they’d pursued a career in science.

Solutions to the problem

To improve science education in the county, the superintendent of schools office offers several programs, Smith said.

• There is a grant program managed by the California Department of Water Resources that provides training to sixth grade teachers and students on how to use science to study local watershed issues.

• The Superintendent of Schools office has a partnership with Chico State University over a satellite hands-on science lab that trains fourth and fifth grade teachers.

• The Superintendent of Schools office has set up the Imaginarium, a hands-on science museum. It has permanent exhibits as well as yearly exhibits for students to come and see.

• The Bridgeport Natural Science Center at South Yuba River State Park allows outdoor science educational opportunities to teachers and students.

• For the past six years, the Nevada County Science Fair invites students from across the county to choose a scientific question or investigate a problem or design their own experiments.

More than $2,000 in saving bonds are given to award winners, who are sent to the State Science Fair in Los Angeles.

According to Smith, “science needs to get a front-row seat in our schools.”

“Teachers, especially those teaching kindergarten through eighth grade, need a more professional development in science,” Smith said. “We also need community support in terms of funding from organizations.”

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To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail soumitros@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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