Informal outreach is an effective way to expand audience education beyond standard learning settings, and to supplement traditional classroom STEM instruction. For instance, the new K-12 science standards released by the National Academies’ Board on Science Education proposed an increased focus on the actual practice of science and the establishment of a continuous learning progression throughout students’ educational career, centered on a set of core scientific ideas (Quinn et al., 2012). Outreach can aid in these efforts by providing regular opportunities for students to fully engage in the scientific process, such as hands-on scientific experiments and direct interaction with researchers. Similarly, scientists participating in these informal education ventures outside of the classroom can help the process by introducing concepts and exposing students to subject matter that would not normally be presented in more formal settings.
Currently, there is a litany of disparate K-12 outreach programs spread across the country, operating in apparent isolation, thus decreasing the overall impact and effectiveness of their unique approaches on overall scientific literacy (as well as hindering participation by researchers unaware of these opportunities). Both organizers and participants would benefit from a national coordination of efforts that spreads resources and best practices to all communities. Also beneficial would be the development of new formats and approaches that introduce scientific topics to non-traditional, underserved communities. Activities such as Vanderbilt University’s Aspirnaut program and the New Mexico-based Teen Café Scientifique are examples of effective programming that, if expanded nationally, could have a substantial impact on scientific education.
In addition to focusing their efforts on students, scientists can also contribute to K-12 outreach by supporting science teachers, providing resources and expert knowledge that teachers often lack, especially in rural and underserved populations. For biological topics in particular, the sophisticated equipment and often substantial background knowledge required to properly demonstrate observable laboratory phenomena hinders planning and dampens enthusiasm. In addition to obtaining access to these resources, teachers likewise gain from professional development efforts that improve their teaching abilities and scientific thinking.
Therefore, the Public Outreach Committee will use ASBMB resources to promote science outreach to K-12 communities:
1. Catalog and disseminate effective K-12 outreach initiatives
2. Catalyze the development of K-12/University partnerships
3. Develop vibrant and engaging science communication products/tools/initiatives