Electronic Journal of Science Education editorial - March 1998
 
 Raising the NSF
Science Curricula Programs
or the Titanic?
 
The bow of the Titanic as she sits on the bottom of the North Atlantic
(background and various photos included here courtesy of the many
Titanic pages located at the Titanic Links page at
http://www.mediature.com/titanic/links.html)
 
    ...the movie. Have you seen it yet? One of my daughters has seen Titanic four times...and counting. By all accounts, the movie is rapidly becoming cinematic history. The newspapers reported the other day that the profits from Titanic have now exceeded Star Wars.
    I'll be the first to admit, I've seen it. The tragedy of the Titanic has always intrigued me. Not because I'm morbid, but because I like to ask a lot of questions. One in particular is "What might it be like to see something so huge sink?" Just compare these stats from yesterday and today...
 
The Titanic - 1912
Length: ~ 268 metres Displacement: Approximately 45,000 tons (up to 50,000 depending on various sources)
 
Nimitz Class Aircraft Carriers - 1998
Length: 317 meters Displacement: Approx. 97,000 tons, full load
 
Even by today's standards for "huge" boats, the Titanic was still huge as compared to aircraft carriers!

    When I heard of and finally saw some of the many commercials, film trailers, and talk shows praising the technology used in the making of the film, I had to see it even more. I thought the technology was very well done. The atmosphere of the film transports the viewer with senses and imaginations reeling, back to that fateful maiden voyage of the Titanic.  The computer generated graphics are some of the best I've seen.  The best because they are used to create images that did exist, unlike some of the other computer enhancements or creations I've also enjoyed in the past...like

The Starship Enterprise,

Discovery One, from 2001: A Space Odyssey,

(who could forget) H.A.L.(pronounced "Hal"), the computer with an attitude from the same, and more recently...

the movie, Event Horizon

    It didn't take my imagination long to "give in" and enjoy being able to finally watch this massive creation called the Titanic leave port and begin its journey on the big screen.  If you don't believe me, go ahead...take a look for yourself...click on the Titanic movie clips below...and try to determine what's real and what's not; what's only transistors, electrons, or pixels; and what's a model.

   Let's go to the movies...click on either, both, (or none) of the clips of the movie Titanic below to see what I mean.
To run the clips below, you must have the Apple QuickTime plugin installed on your computer.  To download the free player, go to http://quicktime.apple.com

Titanic clip No. 1
1.  When clip No.1 is loaded, click on the 'speaker' icon to the left of the QuickTime screen and slide up to turn on the volume.
2.  Click on the black triangle next to the speaker icon to start the clip...just like on the VCR at home.
3.  Use your browsers BACK button to get back to this page.

Titanic clip no. 2
1.  Click on the black triangle next to the speaker icon to start the clip
2.  Use your browsers BACK button to get back to this page.

(Movie clips courtesy of http://www.titanicmovie.com )
 
    I'm still amazed each time I see the clip that pans the ship from bow to stern.  And oh, the "little" people (not Leo and Kate) seen strolling the decks in that shot?  They are all animated graphics. Nope, no water, tugs, or sail boats...all graphics added later. It took me a second look to really see the differences. Whatever the case, it still looked like a huge ship leaving port to me.
    So, by now you're saying, "Ok, a movie with lots of technology -- even some better-than-average -- but what's the relationship between the Titanic and the National Science Foundation (NSF) science curricula programs?"  "What NSF programs are you talking about anyway?"  All good questions.

    This space was planned long ago to highlight the technological aspects of the movie Titanic.  No, I do not work for Paramount. But something sad happened on the way to the HTML editor one day in the office -- a Dwight D. Eisenhower (DDE) grant proposal I submitted earlier in the year was rejected for funding.  Let me be clear -- this is not just sour grapes!  The saddest part of the bad news was that the project, The Nevada Science Project (NSP), which celebrated eight successful years of teacher professional development to its credit, was not "given special consideration during evaluations of proposals" for "activities tied to existing NSF-funded and endorsed curriculum for elementary school science teaching (see Appendix C)."
 
    Appendix C, from the Request for Proposals for Higher Education Projects, University and Community College System of Nevada reads:
 

Appendix C 
NSF-Approved Science Curricula:
FOSS (Full Option Science System)
Insights
STC (Sci. and Technology for Children)
 
    After meeting with the DDE administrator and University System Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs to ask for clarification about the fatal proposal review, I learned that one, of several,  reasons for the denial of DDE funding was that the NSP did not promote any of the curricula programs "listed in Appendix C."

    Hmmm...I asked "Isn't NSF and DDE two separate bodies?  Why should one influence the other?"  The answer, highly paraphrased here, was that NSF and DDE appear to be morphing into each other. The "good ol' days" (if one wants to call it that) of DDE independence supporting non-NSF blessed approaches to science teaching are over...at least in the great state of Nevada.

    Let me be absolutely clear here -- I fully support what the NSF has done, and continues to do, in promoting innovative science instruction and curricula programs.  And, if NSF wants to support grants that only promote NSF curricula, I support that  too -- no problem.  What does bother me, however, is the long (and appears growing) arm of the NSF and its potential to stifle, rather than promote, innovations in science teaching and instruction by influencing grant funding in non-NSF sponsored projects.  I thought DDE and NSF monies were from two different pots...I learned from this experience they appear not.

    The irony of this experience is that the NSP adopted and heavily promoted Science Technology and Society (STS) teaching since its inception in 1989.  While not knowing exactly, I'm fairly sure that at some time NSF monies supported the development of STS teaching.  In fact, researchers such as Bob Yager and others (1992) have suggested that:

...there are significant advantages for the STS approach in terms of students' growth in process skills, applications of science concepts and processes to new situations, creativity skills (including quantity and quality of questions generated, causes suggested, and consequences predicted), and development of more positive attitudes (toward science classes, teachers, and careers). STS instruction results in dramatic improvement in attitude toward science for female students. Evidence is provided which illustrates the advantages for STS as an approach to learning science in the elementary school. (p. 1)
Those associated with the NSP over the years have believed the same...S/T/S works. It's a shame that the S/T/S philosophy has not been formally blessed, at least yet, by NSF...according to "Appendix C."

    Still trying to make the Titanic - NSF connection in this editorial?  Well, it struck me the other night. While HTML-ing away on this space, a thought (though fleeting) crossed my mind. Based upon my experiences of the last few months might be easier to raise the Titanic, in pieces at the bottom of the North Atlantic, than it would to receive DDE funding without promoting NSF endorsed curricula...as found in "Appendix C"?  I don't know.

    I do know that NSF funded and endorsed science curricula have, where implemented, done wonderful things for changing a child's mind about what science is and what science does.  I also have witnessed non-NSF programs doing the same for children.  Like the Titanic, let's leave the NSF projects "where they lay" and celebrate what they've done and continue to do for children.  If future elementary science adoptions across the country choose an NSF endorsed program, great...then raise the NSF program.  If, however, others want to try other non-NSF innovations, let's not confuse and mix the missions of DDE and NSF.

All innovations should stand on their merits...and not whether they have received an endorsement from the...
 


(logos courtesy of The National Science Foundation)
 
    Thanks for reading...and your continued support of the EJSE. Click here to get back to the March 1998 issue. Click here to go back to the top of the editorial.