According to a 2011 study from Michigan State University, most American college students can't explain the carbon cycle and how it's affecting climate change. (If it's any consolation, we can't either. Just kidding. We can. We think.)
And according to the study, the aforementioned anecdote is symptomatic of a larger problem. Most American college students lack basic science skills and the only way to fix it is to encourage schools to change how they teach science so students connect concepts to real-world applications.
It is with this as a backdrop, then, that we pass along encouraging news from nearby Ohio. The Athena Cinema at Ohio University was one of the 20 nonprofit cinemas awarded an $8,500 grant to produce four "Science on Screen" events for the 2014-2015 year. "Science on Screen" programs consist of movies paired with short talks by a scientist or technology experts. The grants are provided by the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The application form is here.
This year marks the third year that the Athena Cinema has been awarded a grant and participated in the project. During the past two years, the maximum grant funding available was $7,000, which the cinema netted both times.
"Science on Screen" directly addresses the challenges surfaced by the aforementioned Michigan State study. By riding the wave of popularity of programs like TED Talks and "Science Friday" events, it make complicated science concepts accessible to students through audience interaction, Q&As, and hands-on "show and tell" extras.
Better yet, the projects aren't created by faraway administrators and foisted on audiences by the foundations doling out the grants. Instead, they're created by local students, like Ohio University's engineering students who presented a "Farm of the Future" in the theater's lobby.
Followers of the Sloan Foundation shouldn't be surprised. They give approximately $77 million annually toward the sciences and have taken the lead in the development of the field of data science.
All of which brings us back to the Michigan State study. Researchers concluded that college students fail to grasp basic scientific concepts because their high school education curricula were too detail oriented and didn't present concepts tangibly in the real world. Fortunately, for those of us who'll be living on the planet for the next 20 to 40 years, framing scientific concepts in real-world applications is the key principle behind "Science on Screen."
Now if someone could just show us how they make those amazing baking soda volcanoes in a beaker.