Here is a suggested proposal provided to Crawford Lewis in 2006 regarding Fernbank Science Center (FSC). This was created as a result of work done by the Institutional Development Sub-committee that was part of an overall committee set up by Lewis to look at the future of FSC. This proposal was intended to be a discussion starting point
Lewis did nothing with the proposal. Just like he ignored the written warning in 2006 that FSC was going to lose Fernbank Forest in 2012 if he did not act.
Things have changed now — at FSC and Georgia Public Broadcasting. So, some of this proposal will read as very dated. However, the important thing is that it provides a roadmap to FSC’s sustainability as a non-profit organization. It is very sustainable through outside funding. The late Dr. Ralph Buice wrote many successful grant applications to help fund FSC’s work. FSC should also have a foundation to manage grant funds and seek more.
Scientific Tools and Techniques
Fernbank Science Center
delivered to all of DCSS and statewide through Georgia Public Broadcasting
The Scientific Tools and Techniques® (STT) Program at Fernbank Science Center (FSC) is an innovative magnet program available to 9th grade students in DeKalb County who show a special interest in mathematics and science. STT® enrolls 180 DeKalb 9th graders each year; these students spend several hours a day for one semester immersed in science at FSC. This unique program in science education incorporates classroom instruction, laboratory research, field trips, and individual study. Topics covered include aerospace, animal ecology, astronomy, chemistry, computer science, electron microscopy, geology, meteorology, microbiology, ornithology, physics, physiology, and plant ecology. Classes for STT are held in both the Naturalist Center of the new Fernbank Museum of Natural History and Fernbank Science Center. The Fernbank complex is a unique partnership of the DeKalb County School System and Fernbank Inc., a non-profit corporation that oversees the operation of Fernbank Museum and leases the use of Fernbank Forest to DCSS.
Fernbank Science Center was founded in 1967 as a partnership between DeKalb County
Schools and Fernbank Foundation, a 501(C) (3) non-profit. FSC is a unique application of
formal and informal science education. As far as can be determined, there is no other science program of this magnitude involving a partnership between a nationally recognized museum and a school system in the United States.
Academic evidence indicates that the STT program could serve as a model for enhanced science education. Fernbank Science Center’s STT program was shown in the early 1990s to improve students’ grade point averages, increase the number of science courses taken in high school, and create greater likelihood of pursuing further study or careers in science-related fields.
Fernbank produces extensive educational programs ranging from vocational horticulture to aerospace education. Fernbank is a curriculum-producing partner with NASA’s Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Aerospace Academy (SEMAA) and produces curriculum for the program. As part of the SEMAA program, Fernbank pioneered the Parents Café program to involve parents in SEMAA activities while their child attends class. Parents Café provides continuing education in science and life and parenting skills.
Fernbank Science Center has more than 60 professional scientists and educators on staff; more than 2/3 of them have advanced degrees in one or more of the following disciplines: aerospace education, archeology, astronomy, biology, chemistry, computer science, ecology, entomology, environmental science, forestry, genetics, geology, the history of science, horticulture, meteorology, microbiology, neuroscience, ornithology, paleontology, physiology, physics, and science.
Critical Turning Point
However, FSC has reached a critical turning point precipitated by funding cuts, increasing costs of field trips for all students and transportation for STT students, lack of adequate instructional space and the growing realization that STT serves far too few students – only 2% — an average of about 9 students per high school — in a school system with more than 9,000 9th grade students.
Resolving the Crisis with Telecommunications
Digital telecommunications at Georgia Public Broadcasting can resolve this crisis and enable Fernbank Science Center’s STT program to be available to all DCSS 9th grade students, as well as offer STT instruction throughout all of Georgia. What could say “Premier DeKalb” better than providing premier science instruction statewide?
Fernbank offers 12 units of instruction in STT – each unit approximately 9 days long, 2-1/2 hours per day. Georgia Public Broadcasting could tape and edit each unit into engaging daily segments of instruction delivered via satellite and/or Internet webcasting by the highly qualified instructors on staff at Fernbank. In the receiving classrooms, certified teachers would serve as facilitators / lab managers. On-site teacher/facilitators would be assisted by teacher guides and classroom guides, containing lesson plans and labs, correlated to the Georgia Performance Standards and prepared jointly by Fernbank instructors and the certified educators on staff at GPB.
For schools that prefer to receive the instructional programs via satellite, media specialists are used to setting up their VCRs to tape and save programming. Those who choose Internet webcasting and have a broadband connection can obtain the programs directly in their classrooms on demand. Further, webcasting can be interactive, allows students to review lesson segments and enables students who missed a class to catch up – all on demand, via the Internet. No taping or storage required. All storage is in the GPB Digital Library.
Because each STT unit at FSC can stand alone, there is an opportunity to divide DCSS into 13 STT “clusters”, based on 9th grade sizes within each high school, and group classes in a central location within each cluster when specialized equipment must be used. Students from each cluster might also make one or two trips to Fernbank Science Center for using highly specialized, non-transportable, expensive equipment or for instruction in Fernbank Forest or at Arabia Mountain. Because each cluster would be studying a different unit, Fernbank instructors could amplify the instruction in person – at the cluster location or at FSC. Also, because each cluster would be studying a different unit, some equipment could move from place to place, following the units. For example, during Weeks 1 and 2, the Ornithology unit might be taught in Cluster 1, while microbiology is taught in Cluster 2, geology is taught in Cluster 3, and so on. At the end of the unit (approximately 2 weeks), clusters would rotate into new units of study. So, for example, Cluster 1 might then study computer science, while Cluster 2 studies ornithology, Cluster 3 studies microbiology, Cluster 4 picks up geology, and so on.
For the most part, however, the equipment used by FSC in their labs is not particularly costly. A lab in each school could contain all of the equipment necessary for considerably less than the burgeoning costs of diesel, school buses and bus drivers – and serve far more students, as well. Meanwhile, effectively utilizing telecommunications and the Internet, the irreplaceable FSC instructors would also reach far more students – not just with FSC instruction, but also with information – for interested students – about independent study opportunities, SEMAA, and other extracurricular science education offerings.
Meanwhile, other Georgia counties could also receive the benefit of electronic instruction along with the prepared teacher guides and classroom guides, including lesson plans and labs.
The costs of making STT available to all DCSS 9th grade students would be well within the current costs to serve only 2% of a single grade, yet far more students would receive this instruction. Further, if the costs for creating STT in this manner are absorbed by DCSS as the STT costs most certainly are now, then DCSS could recover some or all of their expenses by charging tuition for use by students outside of DeKalb County. Further, because STT episodes would be “evergreen”, FSC instructors could look at expanding their program by creating STT for earlier grade levels.
GPB Education & Technology Services: More Than You Can Imagine!
Prepared by Sandy Spruill
February 17, 2006