The object of the experiment was to highlight the special characteristics of organisms. Along with other educators from local school districts, the teacher was learning how to prepare and demonstrate scientific techniques that she could apply in her classroom. The weeklong program sponsored by the Copernicus Project was designed to improve the way teachers present science to their students.
The Copernicus Project is named after the 15th century astronomer who asserted, contrary to ancient beliefs at the time, that the sun not the earth was the center of the universe. Under the auspices of the Graduate School of Education at UCR, the project aspires to elevate the quality of science teachers in California's K-12 classrooms. Improving the skill levels of science teachers should enable them to provide more comprehensive and meaningful instruction to their students. Funded by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) to the tune of more than $11 million, the goals and objectives of the project are to increase the number and quality of the state's science teachers, provide continuing education for current teachers, and adopt strategies to retain experienced teachers.
Statistics showing the need to improve the level of science instruction in California cite both teacher and student deficiencies. The project reported that interest in teaching in general appears to be on the decline, and in certain schools, science is taught by unqualified teachers. Equally disturbing is that more than half of all fourth-grade students scored below the basic level in science assessment tests.
Obviously, the science education deficiency is not peculiar to just one state. As noted in the project report, in 2004 the USDE had this to say, Schools are not producing the science excellence required for global economic leadership and homeland security in the 21st century.• School districts across the nation will have to recruit about 240,000 qualified secondary school science and mathematics teachers in the next 10 years to meet projected demands.
To address these issues, the Copernicus Project taps into the resources of not just four-year institutions, but also community colleges and local school districts. Aspiring teachers in the project will be provided the necessary tools to become qualified science educators. These tools include summer science institutes, a teacher education pipeline, and in-service science teacher professional development programs.
Success of the Copernicus Project is based on a number of factors, but the most important one is raising the science achievement levels of middle and high school students. Not far behind is the necessity to recruit and retain qualified science teachers.
The ultimate goal of the Copernicus Project is to create a national model program for science education. Let's hope it provides the results that everyone wants. Being fourth, third, or even second as global technology leaders is just not acceptable for us.