DoD Schools Prepare Science Students for Tomorrow’s World
By Judith Snyderman
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2009 Defense Department schools are stressing studies in science, technology, engineering and math in keeping with 21st century needs, the head of the Department of Defense Education Activity’s science program said yesterday.
“There’s a huge shortage of people choosing to go in those fields, so at DoDEA, we really are working to promote more students to have an interest in choosing those opportunities as a career,” Kim Day said in an interview on the weekly “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military” podcast.
Some 90,000 students attend 191 DoDEA schools around the world. Classes run from pre-K through high school, and Marc Mossburg, DoDEA’s chief of curriculum, said the curriculum is continually assessed and updated to stay on par with parallel academic institutions.
“If you walked inside one of our DoDEA schools, you would actually think that you’re in a regular stateside school,” Mossburg said. He added that efforts to identify and foster scientific thinking start by tapping into young children’s natural curiosity.
“Whether they’re digging a hole and getting a bunch of worms together or whether they are building blocks and seeing how they balance on each other - those are really great scientific concepts that we need to facilitate,” Mossburg said.
Day, whose own DoDEA schooling led to an academic career, said that beyond memorizing facts, students need to participate in doing hands-on science that stresses academics, knowledge and laboratory-based research skills. She added that all students, not just those with scientific careers in mind, should be gaining knowledge and skills in science and math to prepare them to live in a world increasingly shaped by science and technology.
“They really need to be involved in hands-on science,” she said. “It’s important for students to experience these processes in order to make meaningful links to related science topics and ideas.”
DoDEA students who wish to apply lessons outside of laboratories have many options.
“We’ve been very successful having partnerships with the research labs,” Day said. “NASA and the local commands are excellent in providing learning opportunities for our students.”
Projects that reinforce classroom learning include one that linked students with a company in Hawaii conducting robotics studies, and the NASA-run Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope project. “The students actually operated a radio telescope, located out in the Mojave Desert, to download information from space,” Day said. She added that members of the military at the local base command in England helped students interpret and report the data.
This summer, three DoDEA students participated in the highly competitive Research Science Institute, sponsored by the nonprofit Center for Excellence in Education in collaboration with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The RSI program is designed to develop student experience and proficiency in laboratory-based research related to engineering and other technical areas.
In addition, the Junior Science and Humanities Symposia, an event supported by the Army, Navy and Air Force, promotes original research and experimentation in the sciences, engineering and mathematics at the high school level and publicly recognizes students for outstanding achievement. JSHS aims to widen the pool of trained talent prepared to conduct research and development vital to the United States.
Mentors also support classroom learning, Mossburg noted. “We also want to encourage any of your listeners who may be out there if they are near a DoDEA school, and I even want to advocate if they are near a public school, to let that principal know they are available, [and] that they would enjoy the mentorship, because our military students really do enjoy meeting these people who are practicing science.”
(Judith Snyderman works for the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)