Students in the United States in their last year of high school are not performing as well on the same science tests as their peers in many other countries. Educators say there should be more emphasis on science in American schools. A visit to one school where a retired engineer is using his expertise in science to help both teachers and students shows how it can benefit everyone.
“Welcome to science class. So good to see you guys today,” said retired engineer Dave Weiss, greeting 10-year-old students at Georgian Forest Elementary school in Silver Spring, Maryland. One day each week, he works with [substitute] teacher Fred Tenyke on science projects. Before class, they discuss the day’s assignment before the students arrive.
“In this experiment, I think it might be confusing to the kids that we’re dealing with two masses,” said Weiss to Tenyke, in advance of the class.
Today’s experiment demonstrates the principles of motion and involves string and cars made of paper.
"But the experiment we’re going to do, we want to keep all of our variables constant,” said Weiss.
Student Jada Lockwood said she enjoys Weiss’ visits to her classroom. She especially likes the diagrams he uses to explain scientific concepts.
“Mr. Weiss would go in the back and draw these pictures, and he helps us a lot,” said Lockwood.
Weiss has been a volunteer for many years in the senior scientists and engineers program sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The scientists and engineers are teaching teachers in elementary schools more about science so they can improve their skills to help their students.
Weiss said he and the other volunteers help teachers by providing hands-on expertise, in an area with which many elementary school teachers have little experience.
“In elementary school, for the most part, your regular classroom teacher is responsible for teaching science, along with reading and math, and if they don’t have a strong science background, just by nature, they’re going to tend to under-represent science in the curriculum,” said Weiss.
Tenyke agrees. He just started teaching science classes a few months ago.
"A lot of time I’ll spit out information I learned in the book, or things that are part of the curriculum. Dave helps me learn how to supplement that information so that it’s more relevant to them, so that it will be more relevant to their work experience later on in life," said Tenyke.
Weiss said he enjoys sharing his knowledge.
“Fred is so enthusiastic and he’s so much fun with the kids. I can see he really loves what he’s doing. I get as much pleasure from helping the teachers as I do helping the students,” said Weiss.
The retired engineer is concerned, though, that U.S. students are lagging in science, behind countries such as China, Japan, the Czech Republic and Finland. But he is optimistic American students will catch up.
“In elementary school I just try to give them a solid foundation. I hope they’ll develop a curiosity about what’s going on around them,” said Weiss.
Tenkye thinks volunteers like Weiss are helping students’ do that.
“And if you can develop a passion for science, then eventually the grades and test scores will follow [and increase, too]," said Tenkye.
Weiss hopes by getting children interested in science early, more of them will follow in his footsteps.