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Dorfan Today: SLAC and the Nation Take Lead on Science Education Initiatives

This time last year I wrote a column about the success of Kids Day at SLAC, and mentioned initiatives that were being discussed to improve science education for young people around the nation. A year later I am delighted to write about the same subject and report on the tremendous progress that has been made.

Congress and the Administration have responded generously to the National Academies of Science report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which recommended much stronger support for K-12 science education and initiatives to ensure that bright young people are drawn into science and engineering at the university level. Earlier this month the President signed into law the America COMPETES Act that includes many initiatives to improve science education. Here are three that I find particularly pleasing:

• Create partnerships between National Laboratories and local high-need high schools to establish centers of excellence in math and science education.

• Strengthen the skills of thousands of math and science teachers by establishing training and education programs at summer institutes hosted at the National Laboratories and by increasing support for the Teacher Institutes for the 21st Century program at the National Science Foundation.

• Assist states in establishing or expanding statewide specialty schools in math and science so that students from across the state will be eligible to attend and providing expert assistance in teaching from National Laboratories' staff at those schools.

This is encouraging and motivating news, demonstrating that the government has acted swiftly and wisely in the long term interests of the next generation of scientists, engineers and educators and has recognized the important role that the National Laboratories have to play. SLAC's recently formed Education Office is ready to participate fully in these new projects.

Stanford University has also moved boldly, setting up the K-12 Education Initiative to address improvement of K-12 education. The initiative, which is co-led by SLAC's Helen Quinn, is calling for projects that support the professional development of teachers; curriculum development; school leadership and governance; and programs that extend resources and opportunities at Stanford to K-12 students. Again, SLAC's Education Office is one of the principal participants in this initiative.

Against this background of recognition of the importance of science education, SLAC hosted nearly 250 young people for the annual SLAC Kids Day last Monday. The kids were divided into two groups, 12 to 16 years olds and 9 to 11 year olds. They attended numerous, age specific workshops covering biology, radiation, magnetism, mechanics, paleontology, cryogenics, metrology, electronics, vacuum, astrophysics and optics. These workshops involved small projects that illustrated science and engineering principles. The day was once again a great success. The best way to get a feel for the day's fun and enjoyment is to take a look at Diana Rogers' photos. (View set one; view set two.)

A new item for the 2007 Kids Day was a special safety animation that focused on some of the specific safety concerns that the kids could have encountered. Many thanks to SLAC's InfoMedia Solutions for this fresh look at safety.

Over 50 SLAC staff members volunteered their time, serving as escorts and workshop leaders, to make the day a success for SLAC and the kids. My special thanks to the committee members, Stephanie Carlson, Barry Webb, Michelle Steger, Susan Witebsky, Maria Herraez, Teresa Troxel, Daphne Mitchell and Roz Pennacchi, who worked hard all year to organize this fabulous event.

The importance of triggering fascination for science in young people is recognized by all, and federal funds are now increasingly being made available. I am proud that SLAC is so involved in this crucial endeavor and displays its particular style of creativity and warmth in events like Kids Day.

—Jonathan Dorfan, SLAC Today, August 27, 2007