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Florida's colleges and universities push science education

By Lynn Hatter

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wfsu/local-wfsu-984711.mp3

Tallahassee, FL – Science education was de-emphasized for nearly a decade as Florida's political leaders placed more emphasis on reading and math during the 1990's. More recently science education has made a comeback as the state tries to attract more jobs. And as Lynn Hatter reports, Florida's colleges and universities say, they can help with that.

At Tallahassee Community College's Advanced Manufacturing Program, students are getting up-close and personal with equipment they're likely to find in production centers around the state, like this industrial glue mixer. Bruce Batton heads the program. And he says the hands-on approach to learning is a major part in how the manufacturing process is taught.

"As we bring the students in we're explaining things like Pascal's law and force pressure and area so that they understand that flow rate controls the speed that an actuator moves. But the volume controls the pressure behind it. So it's not only just hooking up actuators and turning on a hydraulic pump, but they can now begin to understand why it's doing that, why it's creating that much force or why it's moving that fast."

Batton says helping students of all ages relate to science is a key to getting more people involved in technology, engineering and math classes, and hopefully, jobs. And At Tallahassee's Challenger Learning Center a group of partners from Florida State University, TCC and area teachers are putting on a science fair FOR teachers. One of the presenters is the FSU Magnet Lab.

The Magnet Lab's presentation is a red ballon, Two small plastic balls, a rubber band, and a rectangular Tupperware container full of liquid nitrogen. As a group of people look on, the one of the Mag Lab's presenters sticks a rubber band into the nitrogen. It freezes. He taps it lightly on the counter, and it breaks. But only a minute later, one of the broken pieces unfreezes, and it's springy again. Carlos Villa is the Magnet Lab's Education coordinator.

"We go out to wherever we can get to. What we're trying to do I,s We want the public to realize science is something everyone can do. We go to one class at a time, we do educational activities, always hands on. And we've gone out to Apalachicola, Lake City, all the way to Thomasville and even here in Tallahassee."

Villa says events like this play an important role in showing students that science can be fun. Many of the state's Universities have outreach programs to help teachers. But the schools are also helping the state, through the partnerships they form with businesses, as State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan explains.

"I don't want to look back 50 years from now and say we lost biotech because we never recognized a university to make sure biotech stayed. I don't want to look back 50 years and say we lost green and alternative tech that goes with health, research and science, and a myriad of other industry clusters."

Florida Atlantic University has a partnership with the Torrey Pines Research Institute to further its efforts in finding a cure for cancer. And similar research clusters are popping up across the state. Brogan says the state is working hard to boost its output of scientists, researchers and engineers.

"The race is on. We've got to do better and we have to do better quickly. But I tell you, if you don't count it, it isn't going to happen. And my hope is that now Florida will get into the race for science and re-focus the curriculum the teaching strategies and the materials used, to start to see our students become more productive."