Thousands of children in the U.S. and now in China have a greater interest and knowledge about science thanks to William C. Ritz, emeritus professor of science education at California State University, Long Beach.
To recognize his accomplishments, the California State Science Teachers Association named Ritz the recipient of the 2009 Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award.
The Nicholson Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and provides leadership and service to make a positive impact on the quality of science teaching.
Ritz, a resident of Los Alamitos, Calif., is the founding chair of the Department of Science Education at CSULB, which has become the largest department among California universities for training pre-kindergarten through high school science teachers.
A former junior high science teacher in upstate New York, Ritz earned a doctorate in science education from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He was a science education faculty member at Syracuse University before joining Cal State Long Beach in 1977.
He retired from the university in 2003 but continues to oversee the “A Head Start on Science” project, which was developed in 1996 by a team of educators under his direction at CSULB in collaboration with Long Beach Unified School District’s Head Start program for preschool children.
Initially funded by a federal grant, the HSoS program encourages children’s sense of wonder beginning at a young age by training teachers in using hands-on science to explore the child’s everyday world.
Published by NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) Press in 2007, the program Teachers’ Guide won the 2008 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Association of Educational Publishers and is now in use by teachers of children ages 3 to 7.
Many California Head Start and school districts send teachers to Ritz’s annual HSoS summer workshops taught by science educators experienced in working with young children.
A grant from the American Honda Foundation in 2000 took HSoS to 21 centers across the country. Moreover, in 2007, educators from the China National Institute for Educational Research in Beijing contacted Ritz about the program, resulting in collaboration with Chinese kindergarten and science teachers.
“We are still maintaining our Chinese connection,” Ritz said. “Two HSoS staff will be traveling to Shenyang after Christmas to conduct a four-day workshop there for Chinese kindergarten teachers and others, and the HSoS Teachers’ Guide is now scheduled to be published in a Chinese edition in Beijing on December. 20.”
In addition to thanking CSTA; the K-12 Alliance, a California science education consortium; his family and his HSoS collaborators, he said, “I’m especially grateful to Cal State Long Beach and my wonderful colleagues there, because, from the very beginning, Cal State Long Beach has been a fabulous environment that has allowed us all to grow together in so many ways.”
At the national level, Ritz served as president of the Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, and as regional director and board member of the NSTA, where he chaired the NSTA national conference in Anaheim in 2006.