The integration of education and research is a powerful paradigm for improving science education, bringing the excitement of discovery and the discipline of scientific inquiry effectively to the classroom. The NOAO Teacher Enhancement Program, The Use of Astronomy in Research-Based Science Education (RBSE), is a four-week workshop for middle and high school teachers who are interested in incorporating astronomy research within their science classes. As we go to press, this year's sixteen RBSE participants are observing on Kitt Peak as the fourth annual workshop unfolds.
Independent evaluation of the RBSE program tells us that the teacher-participants made statistically significant gains in 15 of the 18 Internet and image processing skills they were taught. Classroom data obtained from teachers indicated all had adopted several "best practices" strategies advocated by science education reform as a result of their participation in RBSE. Best practice strategies include students working on long-term projects, students engaging in out-of-class activities, using computers as a tool for data display and analysis, teachers using student logs or concept maps for assessment, and greater use of the Internet and computers in general. RBSE teacher-participants also used fewer traditional practices, which research shows are less effective if overly used, including: lecture as a mode of instruction and students completing worksheets.
As RBSE matures, it has achieved a high level of visibility with professional astronomers and the media. This recognition has been instrumental in RBSE participants successfully obtaining funding on their own. In one RBSE program, teachers and their students have so far discovered 73 novae in the Andromeda galaxy and presented their results at the January 2000 meeting of the AAS. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about a local classroom's involvement in this effort; the June issue of Sky & Telescope featured a story about RBSE participant Tom Gehringer and his students' work.
Professional astronomers are needed to serve as mentors to RBSE teachers in their local area, working with the teachers as they implement the program in their classrooms. This may be the opportunity you've been looking for to make a contribution to science education reform. A list of RBSE 2000 participants and their schools was included in the March 2000 newsletter (NOAO Newsletter, No. 61). Please contact Suzanne Jacoby (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Travis Rector (email@example.com) if you are interested.
Since our funding for RBSE winds down in the spring of 2001, we are working now to develop another proposal that would allow us to continue the best elements of the program for another five years. We intend to have RBSE reach a larger numbers of teachers and to support more novice teachers in their efforts to integrate research and inquiry into their classrooms.