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NIH Addresses Science Education 'Paradox'

By Cynthia Delgado

How can the same education system produce both scientific elites and illiterates?

That's what David Goodstein — vice provost, and physics professor at Caltech, and coauthor of Feynman's Lost Lecture — asks in a recent essay. It's a situation he calls the "science education paradox." He explains that while the United States education system produces a few elite Ph.D.s, "what's lacking is a means to provide the rest of our population with even the most basic understanding of science in an increasingly science-driven world." The situation is "perilous," he says.

The NIH science education resource group (SERG) is working to address this paradox by moving NIH resources from the campus to the local community and beyond. At a recent SERG meeting, guest speaker Stacey Franklin described how NIH is making an impact on MdBio's science education efforts through resources, employee outreach and funding. She is director of outreach programs at MdBio — a private, non-profit biotechnology organization in Frederick, Md.

Franklin says many of MdBio's programs are inspired by NIH programs, or incorporate existing NIH materials. She looks to the NIH for "scientific expertise," from which she can extract up-to-date content for her programs. For example, take the lesson Understanding Gene Testing (from the National Cancer Institute), plus The Cutting Edge video (from the Bethesda Academy of Performing Arts), add MdBio-produced lesson plans, and you wind up with a dynamic instructional unit. That's just what Franklin did to develop the Bioethics of Genetic Testing educational kit. Students learn the science of gene testing from NCI's slides and coordinating narrative. Then they tackle the challenging bioethical issues that surround genetic testing through BAPA's video and MdBio's accompanying lesson plan. MdBio is in the process of distributing the free kit to all high schools in Washington, D.C., and Maryland.

Stacey Franklin of MdBio gives presentation at NIH. Institutes such as NCI are happy to provide educational content for distribution by MdBio, as long as it goes out to teachers free of charge.

For NIH'ers who are educationally inclined, one solution to Goodstein's paradox is clear. Send the experts — the scientists — into classrooms so the public can garner NIH's wealth of science knowledge, along with its benefits.

The NIH Speakers Bureau is an example of direct outreach to support public understanding of science. It is a program that consists of a web-based directory of speakers, most of whom are employees, who are available to speak to local schools and community groups on a variety of scientific and career topics. The NIH Speakers Bureau was the inspiration behind MdBio's SpeakerSearch, another web-based program that connects community schools and organizations with local bioscience speakers.

"Anne Baur was extremely helpful," Franklin says of the NIH Speakers Bureau program manager, by giving advice on web site design, speaker recruitment and speaker-training materials.

NIH also supports science education by direct funding through the Science Education Partnership Awards (SEPA) supported by the National Center for Research Resources' Division of Clinical Research. SEPA grants fund programs that are intended to give K-12 students, teachers and the public a better understanding of the life sciences. An enormously successful SEPA-funded program was the Boston-based CityLab, essentially a mobile molecular biology lab on a 40-foot-long bus. Thousands of high school students and teachers have learned the principles of scientific investigation and more through hands-on activities aboard the bus. Franklin says because of its popularity, the model has been replicated in North Carolina, Connecticut, and now Maryland too. MdBioLab is a mobile science-learning center designed for Maryland high school science students and teachers. Its primary function is to raise bioscience awareness across the state. It also features student and teacher training, and career information. MdBioLab is supported by MdBio, the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and the Institute for Genomic Research. It should be on the road by the beginning of 2003.

If you are interested in closing the gap between scientific elites and illiterates, consider joining SERG. It is composed of some 75 representatives from each of the 27 institutes and centers that are interested in science education. The Office of Science Education facilitates the quarterly group meetings, where members exchange information, ideas and resources.

Contact OSE at 496-8475, or for information about membership and upcoming meetings. To learn more about OSE, visit The MdBio site is at, and can be reached at (301) 228-2445.

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