With chanting, break dancing, sideways baseball hats and a young actor playing scientist Isaac Newton, Honeywell International and NASA are telling middle-school students itâ€™s cool to study science.
FMA Live! is a multimedia programme sponsored by the aerospace corporation and the space agency. Itâ€™s named for Newtonâ€™s Second Law of Motion (force equals mass times acceleration) and has reached more than 55,000 students in 100 schools since starting last year, sponsors say.
The show was created both to inspire students and to meet a need. NASA and Honeywell officials say the number of science- and math-related jobs is multiplying at three times the rate of other professions.
â€œThe first person to step foot on Mars is sitting in an elementary or a middle school today, so that could be any one of these kids,â€ says Rick Varner, a NASA education specialist.
â€œWe know thereâ€™s not just one way to reach the students,â€ says Michael Holland, Honeywellâ€™s director of hometown solutions. â€œYou have to try multiple ways.â€
The show looks for fun ways to explain how and why things move; the larger goal is demonstrating to kids the relevance of science. In a typical show, students ride rocket cars across the stage, stick to Velcro walls and try to kick a soccer ball taller than they are into a net. Two teachers get decked out as sumo wrestlers and knock each other to the floor. Their principal rides a hovercraft into a giant pie.
â€œThis was on the scale that would get their attention,â€ says principal Robert Gill of Kelly Miller Middle School, where the show was put on last month. The three-year tour is expected to reach 125,000 students in more than 150 middle schools, according to the organisers.
According to a Centre on Education Policy report released this year, achievement in math has been on the upswing. The average SAT math score of a student entering college in 1984 was 497; in 2004, it was 518. The report also says the percentage of high school students completing advanced science courses rose from 35 per cent in 1982 to 63 per cent in 2000; the percentage completing advanced math courses went from 26 per cent to 45 per cent.
Although teachers might need a more hip agenda, a big problem is keeping quality teachers, says Gerry Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association. Teachers and parents together must fuel childrenâ€™s interest in math and science, he says.