Rochelle Slutskin had a problem, but she knew where to go for the solution.
Anne Arundel County public sch-ools, like all other public school systems in Maryland, are facing a new set of academic standards in science and three other core areas English/language arts, math and social studies that will start in 2003 for all Maryland high schools.
The problem? Anne Arundel high schools didn’t have the courses in place to help students meet those science standards, particularly in the area of earth science the study of how the earth is changing and the consequences of those changes for life on earth.
As the school system’s science coordinator, Ms. Slutskin knew she needed to change that.
She turned to the folks at Goddard Space Flight Center for help; her vision was “for what happens in the classroom to reflect what is happening in the laboratories with scientists.”
What she was about to find out was that Goddard has the largest collection of employees with doctorates in earth science in NASA’s 10 centers nationwide. Talk about coming to the right place.
On top of that, Goddard’s scientists were more than eager to help. So much so that early last summer, a team of Goddard scientists put together a high school curriculum for the entire school year that gives students in Anne Arundel County an opportunity to use the same computer technology and data the scientists themselves use in Greenbelt.
The result, not surprisingly, has been an increase in interest in earth science in the five Anne Arundel County schools that are test-piloting the curriculum this school year Annapolis, Old Mill, Arundel, Chesapeake and Northeast.
“It’s not so much hands-on as minds-on,” Ms. Slutskin says. “We get a lot of use from the data from the satellites that provide data to NASA. We’re using the computer as a tool to analyze data. We also use traditional kinds of lab experiences, where students are given a problem to investigate, but here, once they become proficient in particular skills and processes, then they go ahead and design an activity and do the testing themselves and defend their conclusion. It’s putting the emphasis on the learner, and the teacher is the facilitator.”
Ms. Slutskin says earth science has had a reputation in the past for “not being for the most talented students.”
“Earth science doesn’t get a lot of respect among students when it comes to science courses and study,” she says. “I’m not sure why. It’s kind of like, ‘You can be good at history, but don’t take American history.’ It’s strange. But earth science is one of the core areas the state will be testing, along with biology, chemistry and physics. We wanted to create a course that would be exciting.”
They succeeded, says Robert Gabrys, the chief for educational programs at Goddard.
“We wanted to make sure we had a quality course offering,” says Mr. Gabrys, who holds a doctorate in higher education. “One of the interesting features is that we wanted to make sure that the definition of earth science would be defined by earth scientists. We had a team of about 12 to 15 earth scientists who worked on the project. Anne Arundel teachers are engaging students in science activity and changing the instructional process. The kids aren’t sitting around reading texts; they’re practicing it.”
That appeals to Arundel High junior Samantha Wright, even though she says she is interested in science anyway.
“Some of it is difficult, but some of it is easy once it gets explained to you,” she says. “We’ve studied the ozone and looked at NASA satellite data. I’ve always liked science, so this is a lot of fun.”
Nick Wilkerson, a sophomore at Arundel High, says the “hands-on interaction” has interested him.
“The teachers help you a lot, and getting to use pictures and graphs and data from NASA is really fun,” he says. “You get to learn things in the classroom, then you go next door to the computers and look it all up on the Internet and apply it.”
All of the material and curriculum in the program has been put on the Internet at Goddard’s Web site (https://education.gsfc.nasa.gov/aacps). Other school systems, including those in Montgomery and Carroll counties, already are talking with Goddard about joining the program in fall 2001.
“We’ve always been interested in it,” says Montgomery County’s public school science coordinator, Michael Szesze.
Mr. Szesze says two of Montgomery’s science teachers, John Entwistle and Tom Smith, are “on loan” to Goddard now, helping develop a curriculum for their county.
“I’m happy with the way things seem to be working in Anne Arundel,” Mr. Szesze says. “They’re serving as a good model for the rest of us.”