I just completed a series of workshops with a couple dozen high school science teachers from the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). These teachers have been involved in the Chicago Science Fair, which is the main thrust of science research in city schools. The Science Fair, which has been running for over fifty years, gets literally thousands of students to do projects at all grade levels, but the level of work is typically of the 'cookie cutter' variety, which means projects tend to be recyccled each year and have known answers. Many times the research is a standard experiment that is done in the classroom at some point. In most cases the outcomes are either known or can be guessed at fairly easily. However, new goals for research programs throughout the city now include getting more teachers and students to pursue possible projects of a more advanced variety, where students try to do more original work and get into 'real' science. Ultimately, CPS wants to see more submissions of student work to the major national competitions such as the Intel Science Talent Search (also known as the 'Nobel Prize' for high schools, as six former participants have actually won Nobel Prizes!) and Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology.
It is truly remarkable the quality of work high students are capable of doing under the right circumstances. If given doable projects, truly advanced work can be done by bright, motivated and curious students. The obvious and serious problem we have in high schools, though, is a lack of resources and expertise to develop doable projects that yield some level of original work and results. The workshops I led this week focused mainly on getting resources organized and developing strategies for the development of ideas and opportunities for students, and CPS is providng resources and time for teachers to go on and develop their own research programs. This new level of commitment in one of the largest school districts in the nation is most welcome as the U.S. seeks to increase the numbers of stdents who move into technical majors in college and beyond. It also may provide a necessary boost to science programs as the No Child Left Behind school ratings will include science scores for the first time in the 2006-07 school year. I encourage all students and teachers who have an interest in research to check out this website in order to begin developing ideas of your own.