This award from the Division of Chemistry (CHE) of the National Science Foundation, with additional support from the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of General Medical Sciences) supports Terri Taylor and colleagues at the American Chemical Society in their development of educational materials to teach members of the public about chemistry, and its ubiquity in everyday life. The award activities will include engagement with the public at Science Festivals as well as through more formal interaction with teachers. The work includes the development of Challenge Kits for distribution to upper elementary and middle schools, clubs, and other interested members of the general public. The award coincides with the International Year of Chemistry.
Work like that of Terri Taylor and her colleagues is aimed at introducing a broad cross-section of American society to this exciting area of research. In addition, connecting young people with current areas of science enables the Foundation to more effectively encourage young people to pursue careers in the science and technology sectors.
Preceded by celebrations such as the International Year of Physics 2005, the International Polar Year 2007-2008, and the International Year of Astronomy (2009), the International Year of Chemistry 2011 (IYC 2011) presented a unique and historic opportunity to expand public awareness of and interest in the nature and value of chemistry and the chemical enterprise. This project was designed to broadly communicate the "achievements of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind" through the implementation of a suite of activities designed to engage and excite U.S.-based audiences on the occasion of IYC 2011. The activities conducted were connected by a singular focus on sharing and generating excitement about the transforming power of chemistry in the settings in which members of the general public live, work, and play. The primary target audience for the proposed suite of activities was the general U.S. public with some segmenting into sub-groups (children, adults). The desired impacts of the proposed activities included: increasing awareness and knowledge of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind, increasing engagement and interest in chemistry and related sciences, and positively shifting attitudes towards chemistry and related sciences. The activities – the development and dissemination of chemistry challenge kits and IYC 2011 programming at four science festivals – provided opportunities to promote knowledge, interest, and understanding of the nature and value of chemistry in both formal and informal settings. Intellectual Merit Over 14,000 kits were distributed to upper elementary/middle school classrooms nationwide. It is estimated that these kits have been (or will be) utilized with at least 400,000 students, although the actual number is probably closer to more than 900,000 as teachers who report using the kits are using them with an average of at least 80 students. This component of the project was evaluated to determine the extent to which the projectâ€™s goals - increasing awareness and knowledge of chemistry and its contributions to the well-being of humankind and increasing engagement and interest in chemistry and related sciences - were advanced and met. Additionally, to the extent possible, the project team also evaluated the project for positive shifts in attitude toward chemistry and related science. Over 95% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the lesson in the kit helped students realize that chemistry is used to solve real-world problems. More than 97% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that doing the hands-on activities in the kit increased students' interest in chemistry. Over 95% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that the hands-on activities helped students learn basic chemistry concepts better than if they had only read about them. The extent to which project goals were met through the informal science experiences provided at science festivals was also considered by the projectâ€™s team. Before attending the event, two-thirds (67%) of respondents thought chemistry was interesting or awesome; after the event 95% thought that chemistry is interesting or awesome. Over 95% of respondents said that they learned something new or interesting at the event. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65%) said they would share what they learned about chemistry with others; another 30% said they might share what they learned. Broader Impacts Many upper elementary/middle school teachers do not have degrees in STEM disciplines but teach this content. The extensive teacher resource material that accompanied each of the four kits provided an opportunity for professional development and exposure to STEM applications. Over 90% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that having a kit with a lesson plan and materials made them more likely to teach hands-on science and that doing the lesson from the kit will help them teach the science content in their curriculum. The success of the four kits strongly suggests that a sustainable infrastructure for resource creation, dissemination, and evaluation was created as a result of this project. Plans are already in place to leverage the framework and products created during this project; as a result, even more teachers and students will be positively impacted by this project beyond the funding period. Additionally, the Science Festival construct, which had not previously been a component of ACS Outreach activities, is now recognized as a viable, useful, and sustainable mechanism for engaging the public in discussion and hands-on exploration of chemistry. This is a direct result of incorporating Science Festivals into the suite of activities implemented during this project. Subsequently, ACS has participated in additional Science Festival events.