WASHINGTON – Bill Nye the Science Guy keeps two of his seven Emmy awards on his mantle,wears bowties because long ties get in the way and believes that emphasizing elementary science education would steer more American students toward science careers.
Nye,who starred in 100 episodes of the children's science television show that continues in reruns,is now vice president of the Planetary Society. He told members of a House subcommittee Thursday that introducing elementary-age kids to science will improve their performance in college.
The Commerce,Justice and Science Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee seeks to identify ways to improve science education in response to studies showing that students in some countries outperform Americans in science and math.
“I want the next generation of biofuels,I want the next generation of batteries,I want the next generation of flood- and volcano-monitoring systems,I want the next generation of smart-pasture farms to be created here in the United States,” Nye said. “It starts with an interest,with being inspired.”
If children are exposed to science,Nye said more college students would pursue science degrees. Nye found his passion for science studying bees.
“You have to do it from soup to nuts,” agreed subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollahan,D-W.V.
Some solutions,Nye said,could include increasing funding for hands-on activities in science classes,offering better pay to recruit highly educated science teachers and providing better instruction to teachers without science backgrounds,and creating clearer national teaching standards.
But Nye and Harold Pratt,former president of the National Science Teachers Association,told the committee that the standards created by No Child Left Behind impose an unrealistic burden on teachers and restrict their creativity.
“Research … tells us that current state science standards contain far too many topics to teach,” Pratt wrote in his testimony. “Efforts to clarify the key concepts of the current standards in science,which can then be coordinated with curriculum,assessments and teacher professional development,are essential.”
Several organizations,including the National Science Teachers Association,are in the process of identifying these core concepts.
The two witnesses took questions from audience members,including about 20 student participants in the National Young Leadership Conference,and subcommittee members peppered Nye with queries about ways to improve science education and inquiries into his personal habits.
Nye gamely answered,proclaiming his preference of the Washington Nationals baseball team over the Philadelphia Phillies and speculating that New York Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano's Blackberry wasn't working in the committee chamber because of “the man.”
Nye suggested that Rep. Robert Aderholt,R-Ala.,teach his two children about science by letting them use food coloring to make the shape of a squid.