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'National Lab Day': It's More Than Just a Day

Tomorrow is National Lab Day, but don't worry if you've got other plans. Despite the name, organizers of the public-private initiative explain that it's not really a one-day event. In fact, it's a five-year effort launched last fall to promote hands-on student learning in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The centerpiece of National Lab Day is the website, which provides a service akin to online dating sites like Match.com. Classroom teachers register online and post the description of a project they want to undertake, as well as a request for help, whether the expertise of a scientist or money to pay for lab equipment. Then they're matched up with volunteers and potential funders who have registered with the site and get notified of the requests. Volunteers can also simply browse the online requests.

"We're putting aside the textbook for a little bit," Jack D. Hidary, an entrepreneur in the finance and technology sectors who is chairing National Lab Day, told me in a recent interview. "We've got astronomers working with kids. We've got doctors coming in, ... scientists from NASA."

The effort is a partnership among federal agencies, foundations, professional societies, and other STEM-related groups, such as the National Science Teachers Association, the American Chemical Society, and the National Science Foundation. The emphasis is not only on promoting hands-on science, but also on connecting students with professionals to inspire them.

I explain more about National Lab Day, as well as several other recent initiatives to help students gain access to high-quality lab experiences, in this EdWeek story.

In recognition of National Lab Day, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to appear tomorrow morning at Martin Luther King Elementary School in the District of Columbia, where he'll observe a solar-car project and discuss the long-term value of STEM education to the U.S. economy.

Other Obama administration officials are also appearing at STEM-education events this week pegged to National Lab Day, including NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, White House Domestic Policy Council Director Melody Barnes, and John Holdren, the president's science and technology adviser.

For another perspective on National Lab Day, check out this recent EdWeek commentary by Francis Eberle, the executive director of the NSTA.

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