Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Tasting the Nectar of Math and Science at an Early Age: Presidential Award Winners Focus on Minority Students

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Tasting the Nectar of Math and Science at an Early Age: Presidential Award Winners Focus on Minority Students

Article excerpt

Tasting the Nectar of Math And Science at an Early Age: Presidential. Award Winners Focus on Minority Students

by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Patricia Ann Goodnight, a science resource teacher at John Eaton Elementary School in Washington, DC, believes that student motivations are defined by early experiences.

As a third-grader in the 1950s, she remembers sitting next to a classroom window sill alive with potted plants and flowers. She watched their growth, felt their texture and, occasionally, tasted nectar from their blossoms.

The excitement of these informal experiments contrasted with the boring laboratory exercises conducted by teachers from the textbook. Students were not allowed to participate.

"I decided...if I ever become a teacher, I'm never going to do a lesson that way," said Goodnight, an African American who was one of 107 teachers who recently received a Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching -- an annual event jointly sponsored by the White House and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The awards went to two teachers -- one for science and one for math -- from each state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The NSF also gave each winner a $7,500 grant to expand or improve their school programs.

Goodnight is well aware of the shortage of women and minorities in science and technology. As a student her teachers and counselors dissuaded her from pursuing a field not readily accessible to females and minorities. But she prevailed and, now, realizing more than ever that tasting the nectar is very important, Goodnight tries to spark her students' interest at a tender age.

An Early Start

Dr. Jane Daniels, a senior program officer for NSF's human resources development department agrees that an early start in the fields of math and science is helpful.

"Many elementary school teachers almost have a phobia about science and math, and they pass that along to their students," she said.

"The important thing about the early years is that's where attitudes are formed. If we can get across that math and science are fun and interesting activities, and they have the potential to make a difference in the world, more students will pursue those fields."

NSF has been taking steps to diversify the sciences since it was mandated to do so by Congress in 1980. The Science and Technology Equal Opportunities Act requires NSF to promote scientific, professional and technical careers to women and people of color. Its 1992 report, Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering, showed a workforce that is 15 percent female and less than 3 percent Black. …

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