Making Science Class The Coolest Period In School Ira Flatow and guests talk about some creative ways to make science class more fun for students and teachers, including blogging about original research, using social networks with classmates, making online video presentations and doing hands-on experiments with cockroaches.
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Making Science Class The Coolest Period In School

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Making Science Class The Coolest Period In School

Making Science Class The Coolest Period In School

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IRA FLATOW, host:

So we're going to switch gears now and talk about teaching science, because that was coming up right now as we headed in this segment.

For the rest of the hour, we're going to talk about learning science and having fun doing it. Science classes in junior high or high school, you know they're notorious for being boring, but they don't have to be that way. Who wants to talk about growing peas or turning - you know those little cars you used to run down the ramp in physics class? I see you shaking your head. I hated that. That was really boring. Or when we had to memorize Avogadro's number? Okay, you get that 10 to the 23rd or something like that.

But there are ways, really, to keep kids excited about science, from the very youngest who are still experimenting on their own, and we know kids are natural scientists. They experiment when they're little kids. Then something happens to knock that experimenting fervor out of them.

Well, today we're going to talk about what good teachers do to teach science. And if you have, if you're a teacher, and you have ideas in your classroom that you use, and you want to talk about teaching science, give us a call. Our number is 1-800-989-8255. Also, you can tweet us @scifri. That's @-S-C-I-F-R-I at SCIENCE FRIDAY. So we'd like to know what you're doing in your classroom.

And to kick it off, I have a local biology teacher here with us. Stacy Baker is a high school biology teacher at the Staten Island Academy in Staten Island, New York. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Ms. Baker.

Ms. STACY BAKER (Biology Teacher, Staten Island Academy): Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

FLATOW: And one of the things that you do on your Web site is that you use, as you put it, cool online tools.

Ms. BAKER: Yes.

FLATOW: Is the Web good now? Is it a very useful tool for teaching?

Ms. BAKER: Absolutely.

FLATOW: Tell us what you do.

Ms. BAKER: Absolutely, and I would go as far as to say if a teacher is not using the Internet in their classroom in some manner, then they're failing their students.

So one of the things that I use in my classroom, the first thing that I use is a blog, and our blog is called "Extreme Biology." And what the students do is they communicate with each other about what they're passionate about in biology.

So rather than me telling them exactly what they need to learn, instead, they're given an option to pick what topic in biology they find fascinating and what they want to share with their peers. And as you said, you know, typical science classes, yeah, they tend to be boring because you're learning about what has already been discovered, and students hate that.

They want to be part of the discovery. And so even if they're just blogging about some current news in biology, they feel a part of something special. And oftentimes the scientist will, you know, through Googling themselves or whatever, in looking for who's talking about what they're writing, will actually find their blog posts and leave comments to their blogs.

FLATOW: You know, that's what's interesting because I'm looking on your Web site, on ExtremeBiology.ning.com, right?

Ms. BAKER: That's one of them. Actually, we have actual - several sites.

FLATOW: But I'm on this one. What's interesting about this is you have a topic called adaptation and acquired characteristic, and one of your students asks a question: I was reviewing the test - I was reviewing for the test, having trouble discerning between adaptation and acquired characteristic. Can someone help me out, please? And it wasn't you who helped out, it was a student, right?

Ms. BAKER: Yes, yes, oh, absolutely.

FLATOW: That came on and explained the whole thing, and then you came back and said that's perfect.

Ms. BAKER: I know, it's wonderful. It's a wonderful example of what I'm trying to do in my class, which is have a peer-review process where the students themselves are working. Rather than having it being teacher-focused and I'm just up in front of the classroom just lecturing away, it's student-focused, and the students themselves are helping each other learn.

And then they also see that I'm part of the learning community. So when they're picking blog-post topics to write about, they - they're informing me about new discoveries in science and in biology that I'm not aware of.

FLATOW: Would they not - I mean, to me, you know, kids are blogging all the time. They see this as - it's like growing up with it, right? It's a natural part of life. But in classes, they probably just are afraid to raise their hand, answer a question. Does this help them speak up where they might not have spoken up in a classroom situation?

Ms. BAKER: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's really great because it allows for a lot of individuality and creative expression for each particular student to get the limelight for a little bit of time and really - or the spotlight and really have everyone focus on them for a moment, and it really makes them feel special.

So they'll come up with a lot of ways to discuss what they're passionate about in biology, and in really creative ways. They'll write songs. They'll write rap songs.

FLATOW: Will they, really?

Ms. BAKER: Oh, yeah. I had a student last year, it was hilarious. She wrote a rap song on transpiration in plants.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BAKER: And it was such a…

FLATOW: On her own?

Ms. BAKER: Yes, on her own. I had shown a video of a rap song that - I wish I could remember the name, but it was some Stanford University professors had written a rap song about embryological development. And so I showed that to my class just as a learning experience, and on her own, she went home that night and wrote a rap song about transpiration in plants, which is just really a lot of fun to see her do that. And it wasn't even for a grade, for say. She just was having so much fun with it that she did it on her own.

FLATOW: And you think if there had not been the Internet tools that these kids are used to, they would not be doing these sorts of…

Ms. BAKER: Well, they would be. But one of the things I find so fascinating and wonderful about the Internet is they may still be doing these type of creative projects on their own, but the old way of doing it is you would hand these projects in to the teacher. You would just perform them in front of your classroom, and then that's it.

But now they have a worldwide audience. So last year, I had a student sing a song that she had written on her own, original music and everything, about this new anti-malarial drug. And we put it out on our blog, which is ExtremeBiology.net, and it got picked up. And even the original researchers who had come up with this particular anti-malarial drug discovered the blog post, and they were just floored. They were so excited. And, of course, that came right back around to the student, who was just walking on clouds for weeks afterwards.

FLATOW: Wow. That's a great story. We're talking with Stacy Baker, high school biology teacher at Staten Island Academy in Staten Island. We're going to take a short break and bring a couple more educators on. Harry Kroto and Francis Eberle will be here with us, and your calls, 1-800-989-8255.

If you're a science teacher and you've got something you want to contribute, maybe a technique, something you like to use or something that you've heard about, you want to know more about, give us a call. Also, we're twittering. Our tweet is @scifri. That's @-S-C-I-F-R-I. Stay with us. We'll be right back.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. We're talking this hour about teaching science. The new school season is upon us and some creative ways to make science the coolest class in school. It always was for me, anyhow. But if you want some ideas, if you're a science teacher or a student, if you want to tell us about your class and give us a call, our number is 1-800-989-8255.

I'm talking with Stacy Baker, who is a high school biology teacher at the Staten Island Academy here in Staten Island, New York. Joining me also now is Harry Kroto, founder of GEOSET, Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology. He's a 1996 Nobel Prize-winner in chemistry, professor of chemistry at Florida State University in Tallahassee. He joins us from WFSU. Welcome back, Dr. Kroto.

Dr. HARRY KROTO (Founder, Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology; founder, Vega Science Trust; Winner, 1996 Nobel Prize, Chemistry): It's a pleasure to be here.

FLATOW: Nice to see you again. Francis Eberle is the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association in Arlington, Virginia. She's here with us, also. Thank you for being with us, Dr. Eberle.

Dr. FRANCIS EBERLE (Executive Director, National Science Teachers Association): Thank you. I'm pleased to be here.

FLATOW: Harry, tell us about what the GEOSET Project is. What are you doing differently here that might help reenergize science education?

Dr. KROTO: Well, I call it sort of a paradigm shift in access to information. I call it the Goo-You-Wiki World. Google, YouTube and Wikipedia and Microsoft have really made a revolution in the access to information, and Google can find it for you. Wikipedia can catalyze the sort of ideas, and people all over the world are putting together sort of little projects on the Internet, which are things that they are excited about. And YouTube is encouraging kids to make films. So the Hollywood and the TV studios are no longer in control.

So if we can put all those together and make available technology for teachers to create their own concept modules, wherever they are in the world, where we have, say, a teacher presenting the material that they have created that they're passionate about that they have some ingenious way of presenting, we should be able to put that on the Internet and create a global cache of accessible information for teachers, wherever they are in the world.

We're not going to change the number of science teachers anytime quickly. So we must use and work with the teachers that we've got, and there are fantastic teachers out there, wherever they are, in South Africa, in Japan and in the USA and Europe and so forth.

So the question is now how can we make available to them in a useful form the material that people and teachers, wherever they are in the world, have created and has been lost in the past? When a teacher retires, their ingenious ideas of presenting this, that and the other either die with them, or may be passed, if they're lucky, to young students who will maybe propagate them.

FLATOW: So you're collecting them on your site? Videos? I've been on the site looking. It's sort of like master teacher lessons.

Dr. KROTO: Yes. I mean, we set this up at Florida State, and this actually conflated with the FCR STEM Program, Florida Center for Research in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, as part of that program. And we're actually working now with other universities in the U.K., in Japan and Australia and New Zealand and others in the USA, a serious interest in sort of collaborating at Ohio State and also UCLA, people that I know there, and they see this is the future, that without it, we're not going to move forward, and it's a new sort of technology.

I mean, if you actually ask any group of people, when did they last look at the encyclopedia, probably this year. But if you ask them did they look at Google, Wikipedia or YouTube, all the hands go up. So we must look at that and say how can we optimize our education program in the future?

FLATOW: Stacy Baker, as a high school teacher, can you make use of these lessons and things on a site like that?

Ms. BAKER: I actually went to the Web site, and I will say that a number of the presentations that are on there are pretty interesting, and I especially like the ones that Harry Kroto himself has made. You have a really entertaining presentation style.

As I was listening to them, I was sort of sitting on the edge of my seat and lifting up on my toes because I was very excited by what you were talking about. One of the things I thought was most interesting, though, is when you have the undergraduate students and the graduate students making these videos themselves, they're, in a way, learning how to better communicate their scientific ideas to the public. And I think - so it's benefitting them, as well.

Dr. KROTO: I think that's the big surprise. I never expected it. I just sort of asked my honors class to do a little five to eight-minute presentation, each of them, and I gave them one-third the marks on it, and it was fantastic. They all rose to the occasion, and some of them are just superb. And what's more, they ferreted out information that you would not think about, that wouldn't be there by some big sort of centralized program.

We can get our young people to scour the universe of science and technology, many other things, and they do the work. And not only that, they don't really need to be experienced teachers because the enthusiasm comes through. The material is there. It's brilliant, and I'm so pleased with them.

FLATOW: Francis Eberle, do you think that the Internet is offering us new opportunities in education here?

Dr. EBERLE: Oh, absolutely. I think it provides a terrific resource, and I think you can see that with the videos that are made available here, and we were just talking about. There's also a whole range of data sets that students can use to go into and look for trends and patterns, and it allows a way for us to communicate - and students to communicate to each other in ways we've never had in the past.

So it really is quite remarkable if it can be incorporated into a classroom setting - or even maybe that's perhaps the wrong way to say it - you know, learning situation where you can have students and teachers interact, and it's in an area or a space that isn't in a traditional classroom.

FLATOW: Yeah, and not only are the graduate students, undergraduate students of Harry Kroto's classes working, but the junior high and high school kids in Stacy Baker's classes are creating their own videos.

I'm looking at one now called "The La Cucaracha Lab." It says: I'm so proud of my students who fearlessly completed a lab with the giant Madagascar hissing cockroach. Right, Stacy?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BAKER: I learned when I moved to New York that there is no greater fear in New Yorkers than that of cockroaches. It was actually quite a fun experience for my students.

Yeah, so we did this lab with giant Madagascar hissing cockroaches, and you know, we don't just keep it in the classroom now. We get to put it and publish it online in a video and in a blog post, and my students have already left some comments about that particular activity that people can read and comment to, as well. So yeah, it's definitely a great research.

Dr. EBERLE: Yeah. I think one of the things we often forget is that learning is a social activity. So when we, you know, isolate students or put them in separate areas where they have to think just to themselves and communicate to the teacher or to us in some framework, we're losing a lot of opportunities. And so what Stacy's done in the sense of - by putting the blog there, she allows students to interact from their own perspective and to develop their ideas with each other. And so that's a really terrific, terrific step.

FLATOW: Arlene(ph) in San Antonio. Hi. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

ARLENE (Caller): Thank you.

FLATOW: Hi there, go ahead.

ARLENE: I had a question for Stacy. A friend of mine developed 25 videos, which is a full year of biology. He's a 28-year science teacher here in Texas, and he has used music in the classroom along with hands-on and audio to get kids engaged in Texas, and it's really improved our science TEKS scores, which is our standardized test.

So I wondered, for the folks that are on your end, what their view is of using these types of videos in the classroom.

Ms. BAKER: Oh, I think it's fantastic what it sounds like he's doing. Is he putting them up on YouTube for everybody to see?

ARLENE: They are on YouTube. You can look under Virtual Science University, and it will show you the videos. There's everything from videos on osmosis to the human skeleton, lots of really interesting and creative songs that he wrote specifically to science topics.

Ms. BAKER: Yeah, that sounds great. I've always thought that the person who benefits the most out of those types of tools is the person who's making them. So I think definitely having - inspiring others to make their own videos. So that's exactly what he's going to be doing - especially when he puts them up on YouTube - and anyone in the whole world can go access them, is he's actually inspiring, not just now his own students, but everybody who sees those videos. So I think that's a great reflection of what's being done now.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling, Arlene.

ARLENE: Thanks.

FLATOW: Harry, what advantage does something like GEOSET have over YouTube of Wikipedia?

Dr. KROTO: That's the important part. What we have is a jewel sort of system in which there is a video of the teacher teaching, plus their material. So we see the material, and it's downloadable. So - but it's also just a concept module. It's not a whole presentation. It's something that a teacher can lift essentially directly out of the site and use directly or refine it themselves.

So I want to do is to make their life a lot easier. Teachers have a tough time wherever they are and however good they are. So I'm using the GEOSET program, which has this jewel mode. The data comes down in one window. The video is there showing how the creator has created the material, the way that they think it works very well in their own area, and the teacher then can immediately download it make - and use it themselves or print it out. And that means they can just insert it into their own curriculum.

It's not curriculum-based. What I aim to do, and what I'm trying to do and get a lot of my friends - twisting their arms wherever they are in the world - and I've got a lot of friends. Well, I did, before I tried to twist their arms.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Prof. KROTO: And they are looking at this and saying, yeah. This - they want to participate. And it's just a case of getting it off the ground.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Prof. KROTO: But just recently, Microsoft have said they - look as if they're going to try to help me with downloadable software. And they're looking into the possibility of making it available so that we can download the software to anywhere in the world so that they can make the little video and put their PowerPoint or other data sets in there. If we can do that, then we'll be able to go to individual teachers, and in fact, in a sense, make them immortal because, you know, I know I had some fantastic teachers, okay?

And I want - I would like to see them again. I would like to see those little tricks that they had developed to make - get me engaged in science. And we can do that now. And we owe that to the teachers who have helped us, and we owe that to those teachers to actually show that they've done something imaginative.

FLATOW: Let me ask all of you, beginning with Francis Eberle. But can these tools, can these videos take the place of a teacher who's not prepared as a science teacher? So many science teachers are not prepared to be science teachers.

Mr. EBERLE: That's a really great question. You know, I don't know that we can be definitive by any means with that, but I think on the other hand we need to keep in mind that students, or all of us, learn through multiple methods. So that if some of us want to listen quietly by ourselves and then talk with others, some - wants to - you want to use that format, that you use that format in a classroom setting, that perhaps that works too. But I do think you raise a very interesting question because what is it that occurs in a classroom? What does a teacher orchestrate that you couldn't necessarily produce in the video? And I think it's a very challenging thing in our time right now because of what we can do using the video.

So, I think one of the things we have to keep in mind in - both of these tool are very effective - is that the question, though, that the issue that teachers continually work on or struggle with, I mean, we just did a survey which sort of confirmed this, or did confirm this, is overwhelming there. The most concern they have is motivating students. And so we need to find various ways with which we can do that. So I think we have yet to compile that. And really the teacher is always the key leader. It's the person that facilitates all that. And I think that's where we are today.

FLATOW: Stacy, do you agree?

Ms. BAKER: Oh, absolutely. I kind of cringed a little when you said could this replace the teacher? Absolutely not. I think you definitely need to have strong teachers in the classroom. I think that's been shown that that's, you know, the number one key to a student's success is having a strong teacher. So, I don't think we should necessarily look on these things as possible replacements of teachers in the classroom. I think we just need to work on better methods of training teachers in the first place.

FLATOW: We're talking about science…

Prof. KROTO: I think that…

FLATOW: Let me just get a break in here, Harry, for a second.

Prof. KROTO: Sure.

FLATOW: We're talking about the science education this hour on SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News.

Next up, Harry Kroto. Do you want to jump in, Harry? Sorry.

Prof. KROTO: Yes. Absolutely. My initiative is focused on the teacher. I'm a big fan of the "Dead Poets Society." It jives with my teachers at school. I've interviewed on my Vega Science Web site about 40 to 50 Nobel Prizes, and only once that I did it by myself. I'm not quite so sure, but it's absolutely vital because there are as many ways of teaching as there are kids, and there's many ways of teaching as there are teachers. And we need to really enable them to teach as well as we can.

And the point about this is that I - with my - the GEOSET approach I thought was set up here at FSU and they're now moving out to other places, we really do recognize that the teacher is the conduit through which that information should be sent. Of course, the kids can watch it as well, but the teacher is there. And we're really aware that we can't bring them in all the time to long distances to get these refresher courses. But we can actually now distribute the best teaching material produced in wherever it is in the world and make it accessible.

And that's the way I teach now anyway. I grab great stuff on the Web wherever it is and insert it in a concept-module way into my lectures. And what I'm doing now is just trying to enable teachers wherever they are in the world to put their own material up there. And I think we're getting there and we're achieving it very well.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. EBERLE: I think it's a challenge of our time because one is a resource issue, one is a time issue and training issue. And I absolutely agree with both Stacy and Harry's point that the teacher is key to leading and facilitating and organizing the ideas that are shared in a classroom. At the same time, you know, there is this wave of online courses. There are over a million courses offered online right now.

Florida has, I think, it's over 200,000 high school students taking online courses. And I don't - I have no idea not knowing exactly what they're achieving in these courses. But it does raise the question, Ira, that you asked is, how does this fit? And so, that's why I was kind of continuing and saying so what is it we do as science educators that advances from a sort of traditional, you know, talking head in front of a classroom?

FLATOW: Yeah. Well, there's the difference between having an online course and sitting in Stacy Baker's classroom…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. EBERLE: Yes. Exactly.

FLATOW: …with these kids doing, you know, the cockroach experiment there. All right, Stacy, how do you decide - how do the kids decide what topic, and can you get to all the topics?

Ms. BAKER: You can. It's really - I always get asked that question, and I love answering it. So, well we have to get this content (unintelligible) standardized exams and whatnot. And so, I get asked the question, well, how do they get through the content? And the fun the part is, you know, with letting them pick their own topics that they like, you know, just within biology, they actually do cover a wide variety of topics because they're each individuals. They like different things.

And what will happen is that as the year progresses and we're in, just, in class, you know, and I'll bring up, I don't know, just topics - photosynthesis or whatever - and a student, you know, will raise their hand and say, hey, that's like so and so's post about, you know, relating it somehow to the topic that we're discussing in class. So throughout the whole year, the student is picking different blogs. We actually get through enormous amount of content.

And since the students are teaching each other - and you learn things the best whenever you're teaching those concepts - they really do understand the content at even a deeper level than just the more traditional method.

FLATOW: All right. We're going to take a short break and come back and take lots more of your questions and learn a lot more about interesting ways to teach science with Stacy Baker, high school biology teacher at Staten Island Academy here in Staten Island in New York, Harry Kroto, founder of GEOSET, Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association in Arlington.

Our number: 1-800-989-8255. Our tweet: @scifri, at S-C-I-F-R-I. We'll be right back after this break. Stay with us.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking this hour about how to make science class fun, and how teachers can help each other out, and how students are actually are helping each other to learn in science class, with my guests, Stacy Baker, biology high school teacher at the Staten Island Academy, in Staten Island in New York, Harry Kroto, founder of GEOSET, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and also professor of chemistry at Florida State University, and Francis Eberle, the executive director of the National Science Teachers Association in Arlington, Virginia.

Our number: 1-800-989-8255. Let's see if we can go to the phones and see what kinds of phone calls we have. A lot of people are talking about this. This is very interesting whenever we talk about science education because it's such an interesting topic with people of concern. John(ph), Bethesda, Maryland. Hi, John.

JOHN (Caller): Good afternoon.

FLATOW: Hi there.

JOHN: So I'm a biology teacher. I also am an active scientist. And I hear a lot of talk about teaching at the kind of a high-elementary/high school level. And science is such an investigation of curiosity that I think a lot of little kids, preschool especially, get left out of the equation because I think a lot of people feel like they don't have the capability to, you know, be - they don't have the capability to understand a lot of science.

And when I was teaching preschool science, even though I now do high school, I found them to be extraordinarily receptive and extraordinarily capable. And I saw that as sort of the stepping stone towards keeping their curiosity as they went along in school and also trying to keep them from deciding very early on in their lives that they were either a scientist or not a scientist.

FLATOW: Were you successful in keeping their curiosity or have hints on how to keep that? Because we all - I think we do agree that kids are natural scientists when they're little.

JOHN: Well, I mean, I think that - I was lucky for two reasons. I did preschool through early elementary for three years, and I'm a clinical physician as well, so I have a lot of things that I can draw from, from my other work experience to bring into the classroom…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

JOHN: …that's very tangible to the kids. And then in addition, I think that little kids, especially, they do really well combining non-fiction with fiction. So a lot of times I would read them picture books that had some kind of science theme and then would relate that to the real science. So read books about animals or read books about, you know, airplanes or whatever.

And they really enjoyed having that opportunity to incorporate the fiction component into their play and into their imagination and then tie in the hard science to that as well. And I think it helped them…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

JOHN: …remember the science and experience the science. So I found that a very, very useful…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

JOHN: …methodology.

FLATOW: Francis Eberle, what about this problem of keeping the kids interested? They're interested at a young age as our - as John is saying. And then something happens.

JOHN: Can I have add more thing…

FLATOW: Sure.

JOHN: …before you get that?

FLATOW: Sure.

JOHN: The second thing is I think that a lot more people who are actually practicing scientists should either, you know, in part, you know, be brought in periodically because there's nothing better than a really enthusiastic scientist to talk about her or his experiences in the classroom, if they're good at reaching kids.

FLATOW: Yeah.

JOHN: Okay.

FLATOW: Good…

JOHN: Now, I'll be quiet.

FLATOW: I saw Stacy Baker shaking your head. Do you bring scientists in?

Ms. BAKER: Oh, absolutely. Again, with the blog even itself, if I can't physically bring those scientists in the classroom, any interaction that they can have is always going to be positive for the students.

FLATOW: Is there anyway you know - you're in a high school, but can you know when kids, little kids are going to stay interested or when they're not, or what happens or why? Do you have your own, your hypothesis of what happens to kids?

Ms. BAKER: Well, not really. I mean, I do see that. I do see students walk in to my classroom and they say they are either a scientists or they're not.

FLATOW: Yeah.

Ms. BAKER: And I do sometimes feel like, I'm doing science CPR on them to…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. BAKER: …try to rescue this once curious love that they had that for some reason has disappeared.

FLATOW: But, yeah, and isn't that a mistake of our system, is that you have to think you're going to because a scientist or not?

Ms. BAKER: Exactly.

FLATOW: You know, you study English, it doesn't mean you're going to be a poet…

Ms. BAKER: Right.

FLATOW: …or a novelist, but we study English, and we accept that.

Ms. BAKER: And one of the things - my initiative too is I realized very early on that all of my students aren't going to become biologists no matter how amazing…

FLATOW: Right.

Ms. BAKER: …a teacher I try to be. They're going to become different things. So my big push is to improve their, just, love of science, so that when they're older and they're, you know, reflective on science or they're trying to make important decisions about science, they'll do so wisely because they remember this - the fun time that they had learning about science.

Prof. KROTO: I - we've actually got quite a few little concept modules for little kids of six and seven on algebra and maps and things of this nature. So it's there for teachers to pick up. And I did one on maps, and a teacher in Washington said, I'm going to use this because it just shows you - I mean, what's the problem with a map?

FLATOW: Yeah.

Prof. KROTO: Well, it's (unintelligible) structure. How did Mercator do it? Well, he cut up, basically, and orange and flattened it out. And when you see that and show that when the orange is flat and they see it has the same shape as a flattened-out world. And I think it - these are the - I think it's all the things that 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds are really fascinated by and they can do it themselves.

FLATOW: Let me ask - well, let me…

Mr. EBERLE: The other caller's point about the elementary science is right on. It's very important right now - it's always been somewhat of an issue - but with the current sort of systems that we have related to testing, that science really has moved off of many elementary science-in-schools' agendas.

FLATOW: Yeah.

Mr. EBERLE: And we really see that all across the country and the reduction in time during the week. But it's really unfortunate because, again, as has been said before, young children and even moving through at all levels - you know, what got all of us into science is that, you know, there's a wonderment and excitement to it. There's a, you know, the sense of discovery and unknown.

And we often forget, and even sometimes teachers, that students come in and they don't have the answer. So when we have it in our head, we're sort of guiding them in a particular direction, and they're looking at it with fresh eyes. And we have to find ways to help ourselves look at things with fresh eyes and bring them to it in a very open way, because, you know, they're always asking questions. And I think we have - we lose them by sort of saying, here's the answer.

FLATOW: I was talking to a couple of teachers this week, and we were talking about experiments in classrooms. And I said, are there too many virtual experiments? I mean, you can go online and dissect frogs like you use to online, body parts or whatever. Stacy, are there - is - are we missing something? By having these online virtual spaces, you never get to do hands-on stuff.

Ms. BAKER: Well, this is just my personal opinion as a biology teacher. I definitely think the online virtual labs make it easier to do a multitude of labs, especially when you're - you have a lack of money, because it is very expensive to do lab - science labs.

FLATOW: Right.

Ms. BAKER: And so, they are very helpful, but I don't think they take the place of an actual hands-on lab experiment at all. The cockroach lab that we just did would - had been an entirely different experience for the students if we had just done it virtually online. There would've been a lot less oohs in the classroom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I'll bet, yeah. Handling cockroaches - hands-on experience. Have you ever thought about doing a national kids experiment? In other words, I have thought of something as simple as having all the kids - everybody goes home in their home, and they take a little strip of their hair and they put it in a cellophane, Ziploc bag, they don't put their name on it and they mail it into a central experiment place.

We get to see what's in everybody's hair and we graph it nationally, kinds of metals or whatever that's in there. And then the kids could be part of data collection, analysis. We get somebody involved who really knows how to analyze the data, a professional, so it becomes a real experiment. The kids are thinking their part of that. Does that sound like a good idea? Sort of, like…

Ms. BAKER: I think - I actually think some programs do offer, you know, sort of citizen-watch type of experiments, sort of, to get people around the nation involved in the same type of experiment, maybe counting dragonflies in their backyard…

FLATOW: Right.

Ms. BAKER: …or honeybees in their backyard. And now with all these online tools, we have a way to be able to centralize that data and, exactly, have access to it or anyone have access to it. So I think that's a great idea.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. EBERLE: Yes. I would agree. I think it's a great idea, too, in that you're collecting information and utilizing the technologies to new kinds of analysis. Now, maybe hair might not be the right item to collect, but I think that…

FLATOW: How about mercury in your local fish store?

{Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. EBERLE: Well, there are people who actually have gone to fish stores and looked at, you know, the sample and looked at DNA and find out…

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. EBERLE: …(unintelligible) know what's on the menu.

FLATOW: Right. I remember that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. EBERLE: Yeah, so - yeah, but, I mean, the thing about what we have now is that we have all kinds of tools that are available to us and that there was one I was involved with some - couple of years ago with high school students, and they were able to do bioinformatics analysis, look at genetic profiles of mice using the same online free tool the client - the actual scientist used. So everything has turned - changed very much.

FLATOW: Let's go to Justin(ph) in Richmond, Virginia. Hi, Justin.

JUSTIN (Caller): Hey, how you guys doing today?

FLATOW: Hi, there.

JUSTIN: I'm actually a foreign language teacher which doesn't really tie in exactly to the science. But this teacher-share idea - I think it's phenomenal (unintelligible) national standards. It seems to make sense to have some forum out there available to teachers to be able to share, you know, their curriculum across.

And it's been a dream of mine, but I haven't really known how to go about making it happen, to be able to - you know, some guy in San Antonio or maybe someone in California has a really great idea about a way to convey something that I'm required to teach, I would love to able to access that and use it in my own classroom.

And - but the point that I've been told - they keep telling me this when I bring it up with people that are above me - is that because I am an employee of my, you know, my particular school system, anything I make, I'm contractually obligated to give up those intellectual rights to the county where I work. And they say that that becomes difficult for, you know, public school systems especially if they start sharing that kind of information, because the intellectual rights don't necessarily belong to the individual teachers. So I wanted to make that comment to you guys to see maybe what you had to say about that.

FLATOW: Francis, any comment?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. EBERLE: Well, the only thing I could - would say is that I'm not sure what your local contract would say, but there is a way to get a - what they call a creative commons copyright which allows anybody to access up to a certain point. You know, I don't know if that would fit with where you are, but that's what many people are using for sharing materials or even regulate published and copyrighted materials, books and so forth. That the - they put a creative commons license on it and that allows anybody to use it. But, yeah. I don't know about the history you have specifically in your district.

FLATOW: All right. Thanks.

Mr. KROTO: I assure you, it only happens if it's - if there's financial gain involved.

FLATOW: Yeah. Harry, how can schools and universities get involved in your project? What should they do?

Mr. KROTO: Well, universities can usually afford better equipment, and that's why we're working, as I say, with Microsoft in one or two other ways in getting the software so I can download it to your - the last guest's name I've just forgotten - because he's just the person that we're looking at because he wants to share his expertise, I think altruistically, with other teachers or throughout the world who also want to share those two or three things. They're not going to write a textbook, they're not going to do this, but they've got some neat idea of explaining that works in the classroom. And we want that and we want to put it up. And they will actually be able to see it in cyberspace and therefore be used by people throughout the world.

And I think within the next, sort of, month or so, we should have downloadable software to enable them to take a camera and then plug in the PowerPoints and have the whole little COMSAT module, which will fit into a curriculum wherever it is appropriate. And that's now - I think it's going to be de rigueur. It's going to happen…

FLATOW: All right.

Mr. KROTO: …whether we do it or somebody else does.

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY on NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow.

And we've just about ran out of time. I'd like to thank my guests this hour. Stacy Baker, high school biology teacher at Staten Island Academy in Staten Island, New York. Thank you, Stacy. What's the Web site that folks can go look?

Ms. BAKER: It's extremebiology.net.

FLATOW: And it's on our Web site if you don't know how to find that.

Harry Kroto is founder of GEOSET, Global Educational Outreach for Science Engineering and Technology, also winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in chemistry and professor of chemistry at Florida State University in Tallahassee. And Francis Eberle, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. Thank you all for taking time to be with us today.

Mr. KROTO: Thank you.

Mr. EBERLE: My pleasure.

Ms. BAKER: Thank you.

FLATOW: You're welcome.

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