No, this is not a new word game. There is a flow of ideas, starting with a publisher’s genuine attempt to connect scientists to science educators.
I saw the tweeting about Scientific American and the Nature Publishing Group starting an initiative called “1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days” to try to introduce scientists to science teachers in American schools, so that career scientists can volunteer to advise on curricula, answer a classroom’s questions, or visit a school. File this under the category “Doing something is better than doing nothing,” also known as a high profile drop in the bucket.
I then thought about what the educational philosopher Nell Noddings called “continuity and caring.” This is the best personal example I am proud to have encountered of continuity and caring in science: a physician scientist retires and decides to teach full-time in a New Haven school…teach science. I am talking about Robert Gifford M.D.
Here is how he did science:
On a Wednesday morning in early January, Robert H. Gifford, M.D., HS ’67, took nine of his eighth-grade students out onto New Haven’s Columbus Avenue for an experiment. Braving a wind chill of 4 degrees, they measured the length of the block in front of Sacred Heart/St. Peter School and prepared to calculate the speed of passing cars. The parochial school is the last of several serving the Hill neighborhood, which borders the medical school campus to the south and west, and Gifford, the former deputy dean of education at Yale, is the school’s new science teacher. In fact, he is its only full-time science teacher.
The hours are long, the work is challenging and the pay is modest. (Gifford, who volunteered his services during his first semester at the school, now receives a small salary.) But it fulfills the goal he set several years before his retirement in 1999 [“Goodbye, Dr. Gifford,” Fall 1999|Winter 2000] of teaching science to children in New Haven’s inner city. The lack of a required state teaching certificate thwarted Gifford’s original plan to teach in city public schools. But his name came to the attention of Geraldine Giaimo, M.S., the principal of Sacred Heart/St. Peter, who was looking for a way to offer students more science than the classroom teachers could incorporate into their lessons.
Although Sacred Heart/St. Peter is a parochial school, only about 30 percent of its students are Roman Catholic. Of the 224 students enrolled, 96 percent are African-American or Latino and 62 percent meet federal guidelines for free or reduced-rate breakfasts and lunches at the school. “We were actually in tears when [Gifford] said he would come here,” said Giaimo, herself an alumna of Sacred Heart, which merged with St. Peter School in 1994. “He’s not just the science teacher. He’s the science department.”
You can read the rest of this piece here. Getting back to the 1000 scientists. In 2008-09, in the United States, there were about 13,800 public school districts containing about 99,000 public schools, including about 4,700 charter schools.
Can the initiative 1,000 Scientists in 1,000 Days make a dent in the need? Sure. But what could make a bigger dent? Awareness by every science teacher and school librarian of where to find high quality science research without choosing between online subscriptions and school supplies.
Today, we have an incredibly rich portfolio of science that is instantly available to every science teacher in every one of these 99,000 schools, exciting stories of discovery, previously unknown animal models for human illness, and the burgeoning field of the genetic basis of life. I think quite sincerely that these 1000 scientists could create much value by endorsing barrier-free access to inspiring research knowledge, starting with PubMed Central and institutional repositories. There are 1182 scientist author-deposited Nature articles in PubMed Central.
Perhaps a few of the 1000 can see this as a natural extension to advice on curricula, answering classroom questions, or visiting a school.