Student Achievement in Science

It is an article of faith, especially in higher education, that student participation in research is utterly required for shaping attitudes, appreciation, and understanding of the scientific enterprise. Accordingly, every institution of higher learning with any aspiration to excellence has students toiling in labs doing some kind of research right alongside their professors.

High-school students—equally impressionable—don’t often have this same opportunity to engage in research projects, at least in part because their teachers don’t, either. To redress this latter problem, a group of researchers at Columbia University created a program for high-school teachers to join Columbia scientists’ labs in the off-session summer months.

The wonderful result (Science 326: 5951 [16 October 2009], 440–442) is that the students whose teachers gained research experience do significantly better (10.1 percentage points) in a standardized test of science knowledge (the New York State Regents exam) than the students of non-participating teachers.

Why is this so? At the risk of being either mordant or enigmatic, I’ll answer the question with another: would you rather learn to play the cello from someone who plays the cello, or from someone who listens to lots of compact discs of cello music?

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Periodic Tabloid is an ongoing record of the activities of the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s staff and scholars, whose work tells the story of chemistry over the centuries up to modern times. Stay tuned for behind-the-scenes coverage of our events, exclusive supplemental materials to our publications, analysis of pressing contemporary scientific issues, and much more.