American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Math and Science Education: Maintaining the Interest of Young Kids in Science (3-13-98)

Witness list
Mr. Bill Nye, host "Bill Nye the Science Guy"
Dr. Joel Schneider, Vice President for Education and Research, Children's Television Workshop
Ms. Sandra Parker, teacher, Flint Hill School
Dr. Thomas Krakauer, President and CEO, North Carolina Museum of Life and Science
Dr. Susan Carey, Dept. of Psychology, New York University

Members Present
Science Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI)
Science Committee Ranking Member George Brown (D-CA)
Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI)
Rep. Tim Roemer (D-IN)
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA)
Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-NC)
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX)
Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA)
Rep. Merrill Cook (R-UT)
Rep. Gil Gutknecht (R-MN)
Rep. Thomas Ewing (R-IL)
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Rep. Matt Salmon (R-AZ)

Opening statement
Chairman Sensenbrenner opened the hearing for math and science education, which was held to gather testimony on the National Science Policy Study study being led by Science Committee Vice Chair Vern Ehlers. Sensenbrenner used the poor US ranking on the Third International Mathematics and Science Study to illustrated the need to better engage children in math and science. He con cluded by stating his goal to "spark the curiosity that's in all kids and get them thinking about math and science not as bastions of the dull and obscure, but as prestigious, exciting, and worthy undertakings."

Rep. Ehlers provided more information on the Science Policy Study in his opening remarks. He anticipates producing a "comprehensive, yet concise" report, and thanked the scientific community fo r its response to questions found on the Science Committee website. Ehlers continued by stating that every child is born a scientist: continually asking the question "why" about their surroundings, and we must encourage that innate attraction. He also em phasized the importance of "hands-on, inquiry-based learning experiences."

Ranking Member George Brown stressed the importance of technology in education. He noted that education is "widening the gulf between those who thrive in high tech workplaces and those who do not."

Bill Nye the Science Guy testified that his show is entertaining because "there is nothing more interesting, nothing more compelling, nothing more important than science." Nye continued by stating that science has an advantage over other disciplines because it has "props" to make it more interesting and understandable. He spoke of the importance of providing teachers with the equipment necessary to illustrate experiments, and allow children to con duct experiments of their own. He also emphasized creating "beautiful, well-maintained" schools, and making schools the most attractive work environment in a community. Nye continued by stating that "science is a human endeavor. If half of the workforce is ... women, then half of our scientists should be women." He explained that his show is written to be understood at a fourth grade level -- even though more than half of the viewers are adults -- and emphasized the need for the Science Policy Study to be written in a clear and understandable manner.

Dr. Schneider spoke about the importance of informal science education in fostering a culture of learning. He then showed clips -- much to the delight of the audience and members of Congres s -- of Children's Television Workshop shows that promote learning in math and science, including Sesame Street, Square One, and Mathnet to illustrate the types of teaching these shows promote.

Dr. Krakauer used pictures taken at the North Carolina Museum of Life and Science to illustrate the many types of learning that occur at a science museum. One exhibit, entitled Body Tech, allows an individual to "take charge of the learning experience" by showing the movement of the participants' arm bones. This type of learning "can speak to broad backgrounds and celebrates the success of individual exploration." The museum also has a program that encourages at-risk teenagers to volunteer, which help s the teens obtain a heightened sense of self-esteem and enjoyment of science as the younger children have the "oh and ah experience" of learning. The museum also provides hands-on teacher training, which is necessary because only 8 percent of elementary school teachers in North Carolina have had more than one class in science since high school.

Sandra Parker, a recipient of the 1997 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, testified that "teachers are the most significant factor in science education." S he cited three current impediments to a successful science curriculum: teachers must create hands-on activities, since many books do not cover them; teacher training is inadequate; and support systems to solve problems of equipment, curriculum, and lack o f training are lacking. She emphasized the need for hands-on activities, critical thinking and problem solving.

Dr. Carey testified that the assumption about the way children learn have changed since curriculum was last modified, and educators must adjust their teaching methods to the new understanding of student learning. Instead of teaching only what students d on't know, educators must better understand what students already know.

Question and Answer
Rep. Roemer mentioned the TIMSS results, and asked how we follow up on the success of students in math and science in elementary schools. Nye emphasized the value of informal education -- such as television and museums -- and suggested coordinating curric ulum between schools and these other sources. He also suggested paying teachers a salary comparable to what they would make in other fields, in order to draw in talented mathematicians and scientists. Parker responded by saying that national standards are necessary.

Rep. Doyle stated that most school funding comes from property taxes, which creates inequities in education. At the same time, many companies have positions in high tech areas that are unfilled due to a lack of qualified applicants. He asked the witnesse s what they thought would be the appropriate federal policy to deal with these problems. Nye thought the government should work to convince people that "it is not in their best interest not to give poor people an education." Schneider suggested that the f ederal government take the lead in teacher education. Parker spoke of the value of internships and teacher mentoring programs. Krakauer responded by stating that since the education level of parents affects the education level of children, the federal gov ernment should encourage mentorship programs for children from families that are not well educated. Carry stated that the government should increase funding for research on how children learn.

Sources: Hearing testimony

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs
Posted March 16, 1998

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