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National Institute on Drug Abuse -  NIDA NOTES
Science Education Program
Volume 11, Number 1
January/February 1996

Projects Make Science Interesting For Children and Adults

By Robert Mathias, NIDA NOTES Staff Writer

NIDA's Science Education Program is increasing its efforts to show children and adults that science can be interesting and useful in making good choices about health matters such as drug abuse. The Institute is funding one project to develop a low-literacy drug education model program for adult literacy programs and another to produce colorful classroom materials about abused drugs for middle school students.

In addition to stimulating interest in science, NIDA's Science Education Program aims to encourage children to pursue careers in science and to increase knowledge about science among the general public, says Dr. Cathrine Sasek of NIDA's Office of Science Policy and Communications, who directs the program for NIDA. Drug abuse education plays a large part in the program because of NIDA's mission and also because drug abuse is a topic that interests everyone, Dr. Sasek says. "We use drug abuse information as a hook to get parents and children and, hopefully, the general public interested in science," she says.

NIDA's Science Education
Program supported the
production of this book to help
low-literate adults learn more
about how the brain works.

To increase science literacy among low-literate adults, NIDA, through its Science Education Drug Abuse Partnership Award program, is supporting an adult basic education project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) called Science + Literacy for Health. "The project is developing a drug education program that is based on science, teaches people a little more about how science is actually done, and enables them to apply that knowledge to findings about drug abuse and how it affects the brain and health," says Maria Sosa of AAAS, who directs the project.

Although there is no single definition of illiteracy, a national survey conducted for the U.S. Department of Education reported that about 1 out of 5, or 40 to 44 million, adult Americans scored at the lowest level on scales that measured functional literacy. Individuals who scored at this level were very limited in the knowledge and skills needed to perform basic tasks such as understanding and using information from editorials and news stories, completing job applications, and balancing a checkbook.

The Science + Literacy for Health project has produced two basic science books for low-literate adults. The Brain Book covers how the brain works, brain injuries, tumors, strokes, and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. Brain and Behavior describes how the brain manages behavior and how mental disorders and substance abuse affect the brain and behavior. The basic science books contain material designed to stimulate classroom discussion and activities among adult learners, says Dr. Wallace Pickworth of NIDA's Division of Intramural Research, who serves on the project's science advisory panel. The books were the basis for the drug education curriculum that was developed at two community-based literacy programs, The Learning Bank in Baltimore and the Academy of Hope in Washington, D.C.

Currently, the project is pilot testing the low-literacy drug education model program at three adult basic education programs and three family literacy programs around the Nation. In addition to the basic science books, the program includes a training manual, workshop kits, and a resource directory. Ultimately, AAAS will conduct training workshops and disseminate the program to public libraries, community-based groups, and school districts working to advance adult and family literacy.

Meanwhile, another NIDA science education project is producing classroom materials for middle school students on various drugs of abuse. The core of the project consists of six colorful brochures that contain information about marijuana, stimulants, hallucinogens, inhalants, opiates, and steroids. When opened to full size, the back of each brochure will be a striking poster that children can take home.

The brochures, which will be available for distribution later this year, will educate about drug abuse, but the information will be presented in a general scientific context, Dr. Sasek says. The project is also developing a teachers' guide that will contain considerable additional information, she says. The guide will include hands-on activities to engage children in science.

NIDA's Science Education Program previously supported middle school students who produced two award-winning videos about science and drug abuse. Subsequently, NIDA developed classroom curricula to accompany the videos. The Science Education Program also supported the development of a multimedia education project designed to show how drugs affect the brain. (See "Animated View of How Drugs Act in Brain Is Hit at Museum")

NIDA science education videos and brochures can be ordered from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD 20847-2345, (800) 729-6686. For information about the Science + Literacy for Health program, or to order copies of The Brain Book or Brain and Behavior, contact AAAS at 1333H St., NW, Washington, DC 20005, (202) 326-6670.

NIDA makes science education grants through the Science Education Drug Abuse Partnership Award program, the Small Business and Innovative Research program, and the Small Business Technology Transfer program. For information on applying for a grant through any of these programs, contact Dr. Cathrine Sasek at (301) 443-6071. Information about the Science Education Drug Abuse Partnership Award can also be obtained through the Home page on the World Wide Web at: http//

From NIDA NOTES, January/February, 1996

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