"I'm math illiterate," along with `I'm science phobic" are familiar statements to NASA's Dr. Sandra Proctor -- in fact, they are among the statements she hears most often from students.
Proctor, special assistant for education at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., developed a program proposal years ago along with Roger Hathaway, also of NASA Langley, that would take the fear out of teaching and learning math and science. The program was targeted specifically to minority college students interested in teaching on the elementary and secondary level, preparing them to teach in the areas of science, math and technology.
"We can't let them be science phobic and take that into the classroom," Proctor says of the prospective teachers. "We have to break it down here."
The "here" this year was Alexandria, Va., just outside Washington. Last month 500 college students from approximately 30 historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges attended the Seventh Annual NASA/Norfolk State University Pre-Service Teacher Conference.
The students, also referred to as pre-service teachers, chose from 36 hands-on workshops led by area public school teachers, NASA scientists, college faculty and representatives from the technology industry.
There's no "chalk and talk" approach to teaching during the two-day conference, says Proctor, on loan to NASA from Norfolk State, whose School of Science and Technology is the grantee. The faculty expects the students to be engaged from the start and not just to sit and listen.
In one workshop, a faculty facilitator was commanding the students to "blow, blow, blow, fuel, fuel, fuel!"
Using basic materials -- balloons, Styrofoam cups, string and a stick -- the 30 prospective teachers made rockets, cheering when it was evident their project was successful.
"This is what makes science fun," Proctor says.
STEPPING UP THE INTENSITY
Proctor and her colleagues say the two-day conference provides the pre-service teachers with exposure. For many of the students, it is their first experience meeting other students from around the country who have the same interests and career goals.
"It's their first induction into professionalism," says Dr. Leo Edwards, director of the Math/Science Education Center at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina.
Hathaway, university affairs officer at NASA Langley, says the conference also is an opportunity to make students aware of the challenges of teaching, while fostering interaction between faculty and students.
But the conference, the faculty facilitators say, is just a taste of what they really want to offer the students. When Proctor and her colleagues first presented the pre-service teacher conference concept to NASA Headquarters in Washington seven years ago, officials there immediately told her to begin the program and to expand it. The expanded program is a summer institute hosted by NASA Langley for approximately 20 to 25 students per session. Three two-week sessions are held throughout the summer.
"It's probably the most intense thing they've (students) ever done," says Dr. Arthur W. Bowman, associate professor of biology at Hampton University and director of Hampton's Science Education Center. Bowman also is a faculty facilitator at both the conference and the institute.
"Intense" is a word that is used frequently when describing the institute. Nevertheless, students and faculty speak highly of the program.
"We meet people who feel the same way about education," says Michelle Posley, past institute participant and a senior at Fayetteville State University majoring in secondary education. With all of the institute's expenses paid for by NASA's Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, "All we had to do was gain from the experience," Posley says. …