The Importance of Science Outreach

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The Importance of Science Outreach


Steve Shropshire, SPS Chapter Advisor

Idaho State University

A young scientist looking at the world through “rainbow” diffraction glasses.  Photo by Alec Lindman.

Science outreach activities are wonderful in so many ways. They can generate much-needed excitement and interest in science with students and the public. They generate appreciation in the community for your profession and institution. Delivering them brings a sense of accomplishment, camaraderie, and community. Providing science outreach activities is also a great way to gain a deeper understanding of science and its applications, and develop valuable communication skills. If you learn to successfully explain an aspect of science or technology to a third-grader, your own level of understanding is greatly enhanced. It is comparatively easy to communicate scientific ideas to another scientist. However, if we try to use the same techniques with a nonscientist, it is easy to annoy and alienate. If we want the general public to support the pursuit of science, we need to effectively convey its nature and benefits. The communication skills to be gained by engaging in science outreach will serve both you and your profession well.

Effective science outreach is fun and rewarding, but it is also greatly needed at this time in our society. Education is of great importance due to its effect on the development of future citizens. With the advancement of technology, scientific literacy is essential for adequate participation in our society. There are concerns that the United States is falling behind other countries in science education and that innovation in this country will ebb because fewer students are interested in pursuing careers in science and engineering. An unfortunate result of the No Child Left Behind legislation is that many states have focused more on student progress in language, literacy, and mathematics than in science. Many states do not test student progress in science, or do not set goals for student performance on what science testing they do implement. This has resulted in a significant drop in the time, attention, and resources devoted to science education, especially in the elementary grades. As a result, many students enter junior high or high school with less knowledge and interest in science. Even in states that do not neglect science education, there are a variety of social pressures that have a negative impact on student interest and enthusiasm toward learning about science. Whatever the causes, there is often a common attitude among students that science is too hard, too boring, and not worth the effort. Due to limitations in school district budgets and teacher training, in many places students rarely get to do more than read about the more exciting aspects of science. Science outreach can help reverse negative attitudes, expose students to more exciting aspects of science, spark interest and enthusiasm, and encourage communities to support science education. //

This story originally appeared in the spring 2012 issue of Radiations:

Get Inspired

Learn more about the impact of science outreach and how to engage with the public in "Celebrating Physics Outreach". Included are Steve
Shropshire's "Top Five Tips for Doing Science Outreach".

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