Bruce Alberts grew up living near Chicago where his love of science started at an early age. He received a bachelor’s degree in biochemical science and a doctorate in biophysics. Alberts is best known for having served as President of the National Academy of Science (NAS) for 12 years. He is an advocate of improving science education in both primary and secondary schools. It is apparent that his daughter’s teaching has influenced Alberts as she continues teaching high school science in the San Francisco Public Schools.
Alberts also served for five years as Editor-in-Chief for the AAAS journal Science. As his service ended in 2013, he offered Three Grand Challenges for improving science teaching. The first Challenge was to encourage using the wisdom of teachers and education researchers alike. Specifically, it was to “Build education systems that incorporate the advice of outstanding full-time classroom teachers when formulating education policies.” Such teaching has been central to the NSTA Exemplary Science Program (ESP) monographs.
The second Grand Challenge offered by Alberts was to: “Harness the influence of business organizations to strongly support the revolution in science education specific in the 2013 Next Generation Science Standards.” He argued that we need more partnerships with business, industries, and education leaders across the world. Currently a major reform effort exists called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) with innovations designed to prepare young people for future science careers. The NSTA publication Exemplary STEM Programs: Designs for Success illustrates how STEM reforms are being used to change science teaching at all levels (K-16).
The third Grand Challenge offered by Alberts was to: “Incorporate active science inquiry into all introductory college science classes!” Many college teachers are now accepting this challenge for improving college teaching. The STEM reform mandated exemplary science teaching should be approached without the typical use of textbooks, laboratory manuals, and teacher lectures. Such change is needed to exemplify evidence of real learning by students and not just their reciting what they remember from textbooks and lectures. Changing typical teaching methods used by college science faculty is one of the most needed changes (but hardest to achieve). College professors often are only interested in research and grant funding – not teaching!
Alberts urges all, especially scientists, to be active collaborators and to focus on teaching that improves student learning and use of the information that illustrates the real “doing” of science. This means exploring the natural universe, seeking explanations of the objects and events encountered, and seeking evidence to support the explanations proposed. All teachers should encourage students to focus on “doing” science as opposed to just reciting what they remember from textbooks and teacher lectures. Current reforms of science can be met by using the three “Grand Challenges” offered by Bruce Alberts. But as Alberts stated in 2013, “A start has been made, but much more remains to be done.”
Robert E .Yager
Professor of Science Education
University of Iowa