Wendell Mohling was a public school science teacher for more than 25 years, and is a recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence. Dr. Mohling is Associate Executive Director, and past President, of the National Science Teachers Association. He discusses how the Internet can help bring students and scientists together.
Do you think it’s important to show students how the science they are learning is used in the workplace?
Oftentimes teachers and educators hear the questions: “Why do I need to know this?” “Where is the science involved in this anyway?” It’s very important that we find ways to answer these questions for young people.
The opportunity to see real people engaged in real work gives students a better chance to see that science is used in all facets of work. It also gives students a chance to say, “Gee, maybe I’d like to do that. And maybe science and engineering are important parts of my life study and perhaps part of my career, too.”
As science educators, it’s our job to show students how science and engineering are involved in all aspects of our lives – whether that be personal health, our jobs, or the impacts that we make as humans on the planet.
How can the Internet contribute to these efforts?
The Internet presents a great, great opportunity to help people connect and in particular for students to communicate with professionals.
In the years that I was a science teacher, I had a lot of students who were out working on research projects with scientists and engineers. But often the logistics of time and travel were very difficult for students, and as a result some of those meetings just didn’t take place.
With the Internet, the student and scientist can match up their own times. There are lots of good places on the Internet where people can do live real-time interviews. Or a student can leave a question or several questions on the Internet and the scientist or engineer can answer at their leisure.
One of the results of this is that students become more willing to encourage their own curiosity. Because they have places where they can get answers to their questions, they become more willing to ask more questions.
You specialize in helping teachers use space exploration to teach science. Why focus on space exploration?
In school, we often categorize our sciences as biology or chemistry or physics or earth science. Space science provides a natural way to bring all of those sciences together.
If you think of building a space station to do research, you have biology involved in studying, for example, how the astronauts will react to a weightless space environment. You have the physics of building the station and the propulsion systems of getting you there. You have the opportunity to study the earth and space sciences from a platform that’s floating several hundred miles above the earth.
What’s more, when you are involved with something that integrates different fields of science, you begin to realize that communication skills are very important because you have to communicate things back and forth. You realize that the mathematics involved in space science is very, very important as you study the chemistry and physics principles. So space science has been one of those really powerful, unifying themes for me as a teacher, even though my emphasis was biology.
Does NSTA have any programs along these lines that you’d like to mention?
NSTA has a number of professional development programs, including our conventions and conferences. In particular, we are the contractor for the NASA Educational Workshop program (NEW). These are two-week workshops that take place at all ten NASA field centers. We’re currently doing two workshops at each of the centers in the summertime.
The NEW workshops are available to classroom teachers and supervisors, anyone dealing with science, math or technology education. They are fully funded by NASA, so participants have their travel and meals all paid for during that two- week experience. Interested teachers can visit the NSTA website (www.nsta.org). Go to the programs division and download the application form.
Thank you for your time.