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Students Help Each Other Overcome Poor California Science Scores

Students Help Each Other Overcome Poor California Science Scores

New "Science Buddies" program addresses deficit in science education with peer-to-peer mentoring in a safe, monitored online environment.

San Francisco, Calif. (March 6, 2002) - Don't tell San Francisco 8th-grader Michael Novak about poor California science education. With the help of a mentor from a nearby high school, his project on viscosity placed 2nd in Physical Science at the San Francisco Middle School Science Fair at the Randall Museum. His classmate, Cheryl Yu, placed 2nd in Behavioral Science, and they're both moving on to compete in the San Francisco Bay Area Science Fair beginning March 12.

Lawton Middle School worked with Science Buddies to launch its first class of science fair competitors. "The experience has been awesome. I would never have been able to do this on my own," said buddy Michael Novak, 13.

"I look forward to involving more of my students in the Science Buddies program next year - seeing their peers' accomplishments makes it much more accessible," says Lawton science teacher David Ellingson. "Plus, it was a fun way to teach them about science outside of the textbook. They didn't just read about scientific principles, they actually used them."

Science Buddies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to encourage and reward scientific exploration by middle and high school students, confronts the issue of waning science education in California with a hands-on, project-based approach anchored by peer mentoring. "We encourage science students to examine something that interests them like a hobby would - science fair projects can be fun and have real-life applications. Mentors make the sometimes overwhelming science fair process less intimidating," says Kenneth Hess, Science Buddies founder.

Based on the 2000 National Assessment of Education Progress exam, California's students produced among the lowest science scores in the country. "This from a state renowned for technological innovation is deeply disturbing," says Mr. Hess, "and Science Buddies seeks to address that deficit with a student-friendly, goal-driven program."

Today, Science Buddies is thrilled to see participants from its Bay Area pilot program compete during the Spring 2002 science fair season. With topics like fish mummification and how genders respond to optical illusions, Science Buddies' students are preparing to show their projects at regional fairs like the San Francisco Bay Area Science Fair this month. Winners move on to state and national levels where they compete for scholarships and prestige.

Science fair projects adhere to the traditional scientific method in which a hypothesis is tested empirically. Buddies in the program are assisted every step of the way from selecting a topic to developing the experiment to analyzing data and drawing conclusions. The rigor of this approach teaches students about research, problem-solving, analysis, and time management.

With the help of high school mentors and adult advisors in a variety of science-related industries, each middle school buddy began a project in the Fall of 2001. Mentoring occurs entirely online in a safe, monitored environment. Teams exchanged over 1000 messages as they worked on their projects. This virtual community allows participants from various parts of the Bay Area to share expertise and insight that students may not otherwise get. Buddies post questions, concerns, and receive advice tailored to their projects. "The 'chat room' setup made it efficient to interact with the students and to provide them with helpful feedback. It is incredibly rewarding to see their excitement as they discover science," said Alissa Fitzgerald, a process engineering manager working on ultrasound technology at Sensant Corporation. It is another way of integrating technology into the classroom.

In the upcoming school year, select high school students will be matched with professional scientists who can provide more advanced expertise.

For Fall 2002 applications and more information, visit www.sciencebuddies.org.

About Science Buddies

Science Buddies is a nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing scientific exploration by middle and high school students. Founded in 2001, it is sponsored by The Hess Family Foundation. The core program involves science fair mentoring where middle school students are paired with high school mentors carefully chosen based on academic excellence and science fair experience. Professional scientists serve as advisors who provide deeper expertise. All mentoring is done in an online community designed to provide practical tools and peer-to-peer interaction. Science Buddies will launch additional programs in 2002. www.sciencebuddies.org

Press Contacts

Gina Han, Program Director
Science Buddies
(408) 773-8882