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Nogales, NM

At a time when there is a great disparity in educational preparedness for students across America...

At a time when it should be the birthright of all students to have an education that allows them to successfully enter the high technology job markets of the 21st century...

At a time when America must inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers if we as a nation are to compete in the emerging technology markets of the 21st century...

Commitment to National Need

Journey through the Universe is committed to strategic national needs in STEM education and workforce development through content designed to national standards in the Earth and space sciences, and customizable to local curricula; and an ability to address requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, with special emphasis on under-served communities.

We believe that continuing America’s legacy as a leader on science and technology frontiers well into the 21st century will enable human exploration for generations to come. America has been, and must continue to be an agent for international partnerships meant to promote the legacy of human exploration worldwide.

Critical National Need in STEM Education

America’s leadership in science and technology markets has helped secure the standard of living Americans have enjoyed for decades. Currently the U.S. employs close to one-third of the worlds researchers in science and engineering, and accounts for 40% of all R&D spending, though possesses only 5% of the world population.

Yet at the dawn of the 21st century the United States faces an unprecedented level of global competition in emerging science and technology markets, and whose sobering consequences are addressed in a February 2006 report to Congress of the National Academy of Sciences titled Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.

One driver of emerging markets is innovation-based development in science and technology, and in this context, American innovation must be the means to maintain a leadership role. Yet America’s technical workforce is aging, and the number of students choosing careers in science and technology fields—and who are also U.S. citizens—is decreasing.

As a benchmark, Goldman Sachs projects that the combined economies of the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) can surpass those of the G6 in just 40 years. Long term strategic planning to ensure U.S. competitiveness into the future is required now. In this context, the engineers entering the job market in just ten years are currently in 6th grade. Science education programming that can captivate and inspire, deliver on curricular requirements and national benchmarks, and target even elementary school grades, is now of national strategic importance.

The February 2006 report of the National Academies has served as a catalyst for legislation that comprises the America COMPETES (Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science) Act, signed into law August 9, 2007. COMPETES includes a number of initiatives in education, including: grants to States for alignment of K-12 education content with the skills and knowledge necessary for successful entry into post-secondary STEM education, and downstream entry into the workforce; added training for thousands of teachers in STEM disciplines; creation of new schools serving entire States and specializing in STEM education; partnerships between high-need high schools and local National Labs to create STEM educational centers of excellence; and the training of more teachers equipped to teach AP courses in STEM disciplines.

Current Impact and the Local Level

From a real-world vantage point, national standards in STEM were designed to define the knowledge to be imparted to students to ensure both a public literate in STEM disciplines and a next generation of scientists and engineers—both of which are of national importance in an age of high technology. National standards relevant to the Earth and space sciences are now strongly reflected at the state level, and most often in curricula at the school district level. It is also the case, however, that local curricula often place too high an emphasis on information at the expense of conceptual understanding.

The purpose of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 is increasing student achievement—for all students—through accountability by states, school districts, and individual schools. Key elements of NCLB implementation include standardized testing at the state level, benchmarks for teacher competence, and school districts’ added emphasis on student achievement in under-served communities. The premise for the name ‘No Child Left Behind’ is that a standards-based approach to education would apply the same expectations to all students as a means of addressing the disparity in student performance across socio-economic and racial lines. The content focus was initially on reading and mathematics, with testing in science beginning at the end of the 2007-08 academic year.

The implementation of this legislation has been controversial relative to: disparity in student achievement expectations across states, level of federal funding, the emphasis on reading and math at the expense of other subjects—including science, the resultant emphasis on ‘teaching to the test’, and the application of incentives and penalties. But the sentiment—increasing student achievement, reaching out to under-served and under-represented populations, and ensuring teacher competence—are all of national strategic importance.

National legislation and national standards therefore drive strategic educational need at the local level in terms of content, professional development for teachers, and student achievement for all students.

How  Journey Addresses These Needs

1. Alignment with Standards and Customization
Journey through the Universe
program content deeply reflects grade K-12 national science education standards that incorporate the current understanding of our world and the Universe, and how we have come to know it. The grade K-12 Education Modules address an understanding of Earth systems, Earth in the Solar System, comparative planetary studies, and the Sun’s place in the galaxy and universe—all key conceptual elements of the Earth and space science curriculum for school districts across the nation. The Journey through the Universe program pedagogy places content within the context of the scientific process, which directly addresses process standards and the nature of science as a human endeavor. The pedagogy is reflected in how the Visiting Researchers deliver programs and through the instructional design of the Education Modules.

Taken together, the Modules’ content is broad enough for it to be mapped onto a school district’s standards of teaching and learning in the Earth and space sciences, and a customized compendium of lessons, at particular grade levels, can be assembled for implementation as some or all of the district’s curriculum.

2. Emphasis on Under-served Communities—We Believe in Opportunity For All
We believe that everyone has the right to an opportunity to learn about their world and the greater Universe, the tools and training to maximize success as a life-long learner, and the chance to revel in the joys of learning. Given the great inequity in educational opportunities and experiences across socio-economic class, Journey through the Universe places special emphasis on programs that reach under-served communities, in fact the program exclusively served these communities from 1997-2006. While the program is now open to all communities, our heritage reflects a commitment to underserved populations in the inner-city (e.g., Washington, DC) and in rural areas (e.g., Nogales, Arizona), and we are committed to continue serving those that are most in need of the programming we offer.

3. Reaching Out to Under-represented Groups —Creating Heroes for All
To inspire students that reflect groups under-represented in science and technology fields, e.g., minorities and women, we recognize the power of role models, and work to promote a diverse team of Visiting Researchers that can serve as heroes to the next generation.

Role model diversity is evident in the corps of 114 scientists and engineers that have participated as Journey through the Universe Visiting Researchers: 41 are women and 15 are African-American. Meet some of the Visiting Researchers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

4. Addressing NCLB Science Requirements—We Believe in Supporting the Educational Community
Science testing now mandated by NCLB is driving school districts to integrate more science into the curriculum, increase science instruction time in the classroom, provide new professional development opportunities for teachers, and assess whether the introduction of these new resources will provide the needed ‘return on investment’ with regard to student achievement.

Journey through the Universe provides flexible Earth and space science content across grades K-20 that can be customized to curricular need; offers a whole suite of professional development programs customizable to specific workshop outcomes; engages thousands of students in the community with real scientists and engineers; provides science education programs for families; provides baseline assessment for all programming; and will work with a school district to develop customized assessment of impact on student achievement as measured through benchmark and standardized testing.

©2008, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education