Regarding science education in Maine, it’s a case of good news, bad news. The good news is that Maine students scored above average in 2009 on a national test of science skills. Maine was in the top 11 states in fourth-grade performance and in the top 18 in eighth-grade performance among the 46 participating states.
The bad news? Less than half the students in both grades tested were rated “proficient” in science.
STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math) is gaining a great deal of attention in the United States. International rankings put our country’s 15-year-olds 25th among 34 countries in math and in the middle of the pack in science. Nationally, only 21 percent of high school seniors tested “proficient” in science. This is not the path to a competitive economy.
On the heels of this information, The Jackson Laboratory learned that the Maine State Science Fair, a tradition for more than 60 years, was going to become extinct. That would leave Maine as the only state in the country without a state science fair. We could not let that happen. As it is, Maine is one of only three states with science fairs that have never sent a student to the National Science Fair.
The Jackson Laboratory volunteered to organize and host the 2011 Maine State Science Fair on April 30 in Bar Harbor. Science education is a vital part of the laboratory’s mission, and it is an international hub for training and educating scientists at all levels, from grade school to graduate school.
We are committed to reviving and improving the Maine State Science Fair. We want to see some of Maine’s talented high school students go on to compete for the $75,000 grand prize at the national fair. Competition is a time-honored way of life in the sciences. As President Barack Obama said, “We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.”
Please spread the news of this year’s Science Fair to your local high school and encourage the students in your life to participate. For information, visit the Science Fair website at www.jax.org/mssf or contact Bob Chaplin, education outreach coordinator at The Jackson Laboratory, at 207-288-6145 or <a href=”mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org?subject=Bangor%20Daily%20News%20Article”>email@example.com</a>.
Robert Braun is associate director and chairman of research at The Jackson Laboratory.