Federal Agencies Fulfilling their Mission to Support Science Education

Science has been a central component of American democracy from the very beginning. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.”

What do we need to be informed about in today’s modern times? Consider this daunting short list of topics—climate change, GMO food, vaccination, energy, artificial intelligence, ‘designer babies,’ and pharmaceuticals—and you can see how important science is in keeping us well informed.  All of these topics require a basic level of knowledge about what science is and about the role of scientific evidence so we can understand phenomena and make verifiable predictions.

Jefferson also understood the intersection between government and science and acted to assert the government’s role in science by establishing the first U.S. science agency, The Survey of the Coast. This predecessor of NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration) measured and published water depth data to inform mariners’ safe passage. Jefferson also launched the Lewis and Clark expedition that excited and educated the public and led to dramatic economic expansion. Realizing that education was essential for national security, he connected the education and science endeavors by establishing a “Corps of Engineers” to be “stationed at West Point in the state of New York,” the U.S. Military Academy.

In the years since Jefferson, government agencies have observed the world, recorded data, and helped the public benefit by publishing results and supporting the educators who enable children and future citizens to be well-informed. We may have turned our attention from the survey of the coast to the survey of the heavens but our need for education remains. Fortunately, federal agencies like NOAA, NASA, the Department of Energy, and the Department of Interior have maintained their mission to educate us and have developed programs that facilitate teachers’ access to and use of their science. We strongly believe this must continue.

Science instruction today is motivated by exposing students to phenomena, encouraging their questions, and guiding their practices to build and defend explanations supported by evidence. Students learn to use observations, build models, and make predictions, just like the scientists in federal agencies. They also explore the consequences of science in the world they live in, learning to be well-informed citizens.

Recognizing the traditional connection between science, education, and federal agencies, we invite science teachers who have benefited from federal agency programs to share your experiences and the impact these programs have had on your students. These reflections will appear on the NSTA blog and inspire other teachers to seek out and use similar resources and programs to support science teaching. Read our first blog by middle level teacher Ken Huff who shares his experience with the NASA Educator Workshop (NEW) at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Dr. David L. Evans is the Executive Director of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA). Reach him via e-mail at devans@nsta.org or via Twitter @devans_NSTA

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all.


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