Museums and teachers: Partnerships with a purpose

Approximately 84% of ASTC-member institutions have some type of teacher training program. While science centers and museums are doing a great deal to help strengthen the teaching of science, and the skills that develop in out-of-school environments are being implemented quickly into the classroom, more has to be done. And Ellen Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), underlined the imperative: “Failing to improve science teaching in schools will have dire consequences.”

The “Museums and Teachers: Partnerships with a Purpose” featured session opened with a presentation from Dr. Patricia Simmons, the new president of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and head of the department of Math, Science, and Technology Education at North Carolina State University. In 2010, ASTC joined NSTA’s Alliance of Affiliates as the professional organization representing informal science education, and as Simmons mentioned, both organizations share similar advocacy goals, which include ensuring that the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is reauthorized.

Over 80% of the fastest growing professions (e.g., health care, IT) require science skills, and despite high unemployment rates, 1/3 of U.S. manufacturers report significant skills shortage in STEM areas. Futter called for science centers, natural history museums, zoos, aquaria, etc., to assume a more active role in improving science education.

“Science centers have always been places of inspiration,” she said. “But as valuable as that role has been, science centers are and need to be as essential a part of the formal learning landscape as well as the informal one.”

AMNH is participating in Urban Advantage, a collaborative program focused on supporting and improving the teaching and learning of public school science education. Urban Advantage reports that participating students perform better than those who don’t. The museum is also about to launch the nation’s first masters degree-granting program for teachers in earth science, co-taught by museum scientists and educators. (AMNH is already the only PhD-granting museum in the U.S.)

“We dare not smother the fire of intellectual curiosity,” Futter said. “Science centers and museums must make our resources broadly available to improve science education.”

Click here to watch a video from this session.