The concept of matching scientists and classroom teachers isn't new. But a neuroscientist turned Internet entrepreneur hopes to go national with the idea as part of a new effort by the Obama Administration to stimulate private-sector participation in improving math and science education.
"We hope to become the eHarmony of science," quips Jack Hidary about the grassroots project, called National Lab Day (NLD) nationallabday.org The project is the brainstorm of presidential science adviser John Holdren and his staff, and yesterday President Barack Obama kicked off the broader initiative, called Education to Innovate, at a White House rally that featured educators, science and engineering organizations, philanthropies, and businesses. Administration officials hope that shining a light on the numerous private-sector efforts already underway to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education will enhance existing federal programs. "We're going to show young people how cool science can be," said Obama.
NLD is a misnomer, admits Hidary, who began his career as a neuroimaging fellow at the National Institutes of Health in the early 1990s before becoming a successful serial entrepreneur in financial information services. Rather than a one-shot effort, he says, NLD is intended to be an ongoing campaign to give teachers the resources they need to improve their instruction.
"It's actually a capstone day for a year-long series of activities," he explains. "We're creating a matching service for scientists, galvanized by their professional organizations, and teachers, who are saying, 'I need two biologists, for 3 weeks, to help me build a greenhouse.' My algorithm matches those two parties. In May, NLD will recognize and celebrate all that work, and we hope the president will join us."
The odds are in his favor. Obama has already held an astronomy night at the White House for children and their families, and yesterday he promised to host the winners of various student science competitions to put them on a par with the athletes who are regularly honored for their championship seasons.