For many of us who have made careers as scientists, doing science is not simply a matter of earning a living. I often like to think of science in terms of its "usefulness" — as a way to figure out things I didn't already know. And I always enjoy hearing about the clever way a colleague has found to apply scientific reasoning to questions that arise in everyday life.
Some of the best of these ideas rely only upon really understanding how to use the basic tools of math and science that are taught in pre-college classrooms.
For years, NASA program directors and other leading representatives of the scientific community have been asking working scientists and engineers to contribute to science education. Although part of the motivation for these requests is to encourage and train future scientists, the emphasis has been on helping teach basic "science literacy" to all students. But few of us have the time or the background to teach long division to third graders, or to develop middle-school science curricula.
What can we do that will really help?
One thing we all know is how the science and math taught in pre-college classes is actually used. So it occurred to me that providing a forum for collecting and disseminating brief examples of the Practical Uses of Math And Science might really help. And many teachers I spoke with said they would like to see more good, practical examples of how we use the material they cover in pre-college math and science classes.
Both teachers and scientists also supported the idea that for PUMAS, content experts be asked to provide examples, rather than curricula or activities/lesson plans. This makes best use of the Contributors’ expertise, and puts squarely on the shoulders of teachers the responsibility for selecting, adapting, and presenting the material to students. Teachers, after all, are best equipped to address students' needs, abilities, and interests. The PUMAS examples are intended to help pre-college teachers enrich their presentation of topics in math and science. We also include an option for submitting sample Activities/Lesson Plans for review and posting on the example pages, so teaching professionals can share the classroom material they develop for specific PUMAS examples with others.
The "Journal" format was an easy choice. In the scientific community, we have a long tradition of publishing in journals. A journal provides the kind of open, participatory venue we want for PUMAS. And there is a built-in mechanism for giving credit to contributors, through formal literature citations.
We make use of "peer-review", a process well understood by scientists, as an arbiter of quality. For PUMAS, since we bridge two communities having different expertise, each contribution is peer-reviewed by at least one scientist with a relevant background, and at least one teacher at an appropriate grade level. Submissions are evaluated based on originality, accuracy of content, clarity of presentation, and grade-level appropriateness.
We faced a challenge in organizing the PUMAS Collection according to curriculum topics. This is needed to help users select examples, and also to give contributors some assistance in targeting their examples appropriately. The organization of examples by curriculum topic represents one of the main communication links that PUMAS establishes between the Education and the Science communities.
For Curriculum Topics, we adopted the benchmarks developed at the Mid-continent Regional Educational Laboratory (McREL). These benchmarks represent a synthesis of content guidelines established by nationally recognized leaders in science education in the United States: the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the National Research Council (NRC). For mathematics, the work represents a synthesis of content guidelines from the AAAS and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM).
The entire subject matter of K-12 math and science is divided into broad curriculum areas, called Science and Math "Standards." Under each Standard are numerous "Benchmarks," which are specific curriculum topic statements, arranged by grade groupings. The Grade Groups are: Primary [K-2], Upper Elementary [3-5], Middle School [6-8], and High School [9-12]. Each PUMAS example is referenced to one or more Benchmarks, and can be accessed by Hierarchical Search or Benchmark number.
We began designing the PUMAS Web Site (http://pumas.nasa.gov) in the spring of 1996. PUMAS first went on-line in November 1996, and has been in continuous operation ever since. With the limited resources available to PUMAS, the Internet was the only way we could afford to process contributions, and to distribute examples widely at that time. Internet use has since advanced to the point where on-line access is by far the venue of choice. This environment makes it easy for participants to view and to submit examples, comments, and activities/lesson plans, to review submitted material, and to request examples on specific topics not covered in the current PUMAS collection.
PUMAS exists as a result of the efforts of many hands. Most of the work developing the Site, contributing examples, and peer-reviewing, is volunteered by professional scientists, software engineers, and teachers.
Interested in participating? The Examples speak eloquently for themselves, so you might begin by having a look at those already in the PUMAS Collection. We need teachers at all grade levels, scientists and other content experts, to volunteer for the Pool of PUMAS Reviewers. And we are always looking for good examples of Practical Uses of Math And Science...
Thanks for your interest, and welcome to the PUMAS Community!
Download a PDF version of the PUMAS Flyer.