Social Studies Resources: An Important Website for Science Educators

The purpose of this post is to introduced to you to an important new website that I think is very relevant to science educators.  It is the Social Studies Resources Website.

I became aware of the Social Studies Resources website today when I received a newsletter from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).  The SPLC provided grant money to a group organized by Milwaukee Public School teacher Bob Peterson to develop a website designed to respond to criticism over the quality of social studies textbooks being considered for adoption.  Peterson’s group investigated the major elementary social studies texts being considered for adoption in Milwaukee, and realized the texts failed to provide a full-picture of American history, and indeed found that the texts did not deal adequately with race, racism and anti-Semitism, class and the role of working people, gender, and the role of social movements.  The group’s work resulted in the postponement of the adoption of the social studies texts.  You can read Bob Peterson’s article which raised the issue with readers of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Sentinel.

Science teachers will find a powerful connection at this new social studies website with one of the major themes that has dominated science education over the past 20 years, and that is “science for all.”  In our book, The Art of Teaching Science, science for all is developed as a humanistic idea and is developed around four interdependent perspectives: global thinking, multicultural science education, gender, and exceptional students.  At the Social Studies Resources site you will find major categories to topics including, but not limited to: civil rights movement, current events, geography-critical, global warming, globalization, imperialism/peace, Native Americans, women’s movement.

This is an important resource, and I hope that you will visit the site, and make use of the well-organized and very useful resources that Bob Peterson and his colleagues have created.

Tomorrow I will introduce you to another site (Rethinking Schools Online) that directly relates to the humanistic paradigm that I have been exploring in the blog, and will provide further evidence that the dominant traditional model characterizing today’s pedagogy needs to go.

The Humanistic Paradigm as Reform in Science Teaching

In the next four to eight years, education will face issues that will provide opportunities for really changing the way we think about teaching and learning.  It will require, however, that educators and the public use research for decision-making, and develop programs that promote learning for the diversity of students that attend our schools.  We need leaders who are steeped in educational research, and realize that our schools need reform more than ever.

In my own view, we need to recognize that the traditional paradigm (Paradigm A in the chart) has not worked for most of the students who attend schools, not only in the USA, but in most countries around the world.  Unfortunately, when educational leaders talk about reform in schooling, they restrain themselves by basing their thinking on this old paradigm, one that is based on a corporate model, and uses test scores as the measure of student learning.  The tests that are used reduce learning to rote, and evaluate not only a student’s progress in a period of a few hours, but also use these results as a way to assess teachers’ performance.  In neither case should we be satisfied. There are much better ways to find out how students are doing, and far more valid ways to assess teachers’ performance other than basing it on student achievement.

Leaders are needed to embrace new ways of thinking about education.
Leaders are needed to embrace new ways of thinking about education.



We need leaders at the national, state and local levels (in each country) who embrace a humanistic approach to teaching and learning, and an educational system that is based on research.  For example, in the chart below, the humanistic paradigm is by its nature innovative and flexible.  It does not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching.  Instead, learning is constructivist in nature, and students need to be helped to develop their ideas in environments that foster a social constructivist approach.  In this approach learning is seen as a social process, and much of the work of students should be done in the context of groups—especially problem solving groups, and the problems should be based on lived experiences of students, and be as authentic as possible.  A humanistic paradigm values interdependence, and creates environments in which student have a right-to-choose not only some aspects of content, but the design of methodologies for learning.


Science Teaching Paradigm A—Traditional Approach

Science Teaching Paradigm B—Humanistic Approach

• Traditional, mechanized thinking

• Individualistic–although students may at times work together in groups, interdependence typically is not a goal.

• Dependence–teacher-directed instructional model establishes a dependent social system.

• Hierarchical—choice-made-for-you. Rarely do students choose content or methodology for their investigations

• Emphasis on literacy: knowing facts, skills, concepts

• Emphasis on content; acquiring the right body of knowledge

• Learning encourages recall, and is analytical and linear

• Innovative, flexible thinking

• Cooperative–students work collaboratively in small teams to think and take action together

• Interdependence–a synergic system is established in groups within a classroom, and within global communities of practice.

• Right-to-choose—students are involved in choice-making including problem and topic selection, as well as solutions; reflects the action processes of grassroots organizations

• A new literacy insofar as “knowledge” relates to human needs, the needs of the environment and the social needs of the earth’s population and other living species

• Emphasis on anticipation and participation; on inquiry, learning how to learn, and how to ask questions

• Learning encourages creative thinking, and is holistic and intuitive

The humanistic paradigm would view standards in a different way.  Instead of simply being an outline of the content of the science discipline, content would be seen as knowledge as it relates to human needs, the needs of environment, and the social needs of the earth’s population and living species.


Both paradigms have been existed for a long time; Paradigm A dominates, but needs to be replaced by Paradigm B
Both paradigms have been existed for a long time; Paradigm A dominates, but needs to be replaced by Paradigm B

Embracing this paradigm, which is also as old as the traditional paradigm, would require courage on the part of educational leaders.  Yet, there is evidence to support a movement toward the humanistic model, and I’ll explore some of this evidence in future posts.


In the meantime you might check out:

Science for Everyday Life: Evidence Based Practice by Glen Aikenhead

Review of Research on Humanistic Perspectives in Science Curricula by Glen Aikenhead

The Art of Teaching Science: Inquiry and Innovation in Middle School and High School

Reform in Science Education?

With the inauguration of President-Elect Obama less than 30 days away, and with his selection of Arne Duncan, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, as the Secretary of Education, there has been discussion in the press, on blogs, and in professional education societies about the future of education, and how the new administration will deal with teacher tenure, relationships with teacher unions, teacher education, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and the “R” word, “Reform.”

Is the present system of education willing to paint a different picture for students and teachers?
Is the present system of education willing to paint a different picture for students and teachers?

According to many educators, the NCLB act was a movement to reform education, to hold schools accountable to the education of students by implementing stiff standards, and creating tests that would measure student performance and then could be used to induce students to “higher” levels of achievement.  To many, these ideas seemed reasonable.  Who would be against accountability?  Who wouldn’t want more rigorous schools?

In my own view, the ideas that are foundation of current educational reform as enacted in the NCLB act and in the Standards movement are based on a traditional model of education, and to make progress in reforming education, administrators from Washington DC to school systems around the country will need to think and act in different ways.  Conventional wisdom supports current efforts to reform education.  Conventional wisdom supports an educational system that:

  • Generates high-stakes tests to measure student achievement, tests that are typically decontextualized, and of the multiple choice format.  They rarely involve the students in any sort of authentic knowing or learning.
  • Encourages teachers to promote a form teaching that emphasizes rote learning—e.g. memorization, and practicing for the test.
  • Is behaviorist in nature in the sense that rewards and punishments are used to “motivate” teachers and students, and indeed in a growing number of situations, money is used to reward students, and teachers. A corporate model is seen as the cog in educational reform.  How could anyone distrust the corporate model?  Huh!
  • Charter schools are the answer to how schools should be organized, especially if the charter school is run by a corporation.

These are only a few of the ideas that seem to dominate the discussion of educational reform.  Yet, for most of these “innovations,” there is little educational research to support any of them.  For instance, the use of tests to keep student back a grade has been shown to counterproductive, and indeed the use of high-stakes tests have actually resulted in an increased dropout rate, and a decreased graduation rate.

In most discussions of educational reform, even in the thinking of new Secretary of Education, reform is based on the traditional model of teaching and learning which is mechanized, individualistic, dependent on teacher-directed activities, hierarchical—that is students rarely choose content or methodology, and finally I would add the basic emphasis is on literacy—the attainment and achievement of content knowledge—as defined in the standards.

This model of education has been around forever.  Tweaking the NCLB act would only reinforce this model, and in my own view it wouldn’t matter which political party was in Washington.  What is needed is a reformer in Washington who truly would pay attention to educational research, and base decisions and directions on educational research rather than on political will.  Is there research that might help us see education from a different perspective?

Tomorrow I want to explore some ideas that would address the issue of (science) education reform.

In the meantime, here are some ideas to consider:

Is Duncan a good choice for Education Secretary? This is a brief article by a professor at the University of Chicago, who makes the claim that Duncan is not a good choice.

What is Duncan’s view of teacher unions?  An article that shows that Duncan get along with unions, but also is an educational reformer—of sorts.

The Case Against Tougher Standards and the NCLB act by Alfie Kohn. A powerful article that supports the contention that the Standards movement and the NCLB act is moving education in the wrong direction.

The Status of Reform by Alfie Kohn. Kohn makes comments about the nature of reform, and unlikelihood that the kind of reform he has in mind is the kind of reform that swirls around DC education circles.

Great Minds in Science Will Meet in the White House in 2009

I’ve returned to from a bit of hiatus and want to start with a discussion of how science might fare in the next Congress, and in the White House.

A year and half ago I wrote a post entitled Meeting of the Minds on Global Warming: The US Congress, Al Gore, and John P. Holdren.  It was post in which I highlighted a meeting among the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and Al Gore.  I lamented that Dr. John P. Holdren was not involved in the meeting.  Holdren is Harvard’s Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy and Director of the Program on Science, Technology, and Public Policy at the Kennedy School, as well as Professor of physics and environmental policy, and Director of Woods Hole Environmental Center.  When I wrote the earlier post, he was President of the AAAS.

It was announced just a few days ago that Holdren will be the next Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  Significant about this appointment is Holdren’s research on climate change, and other significant science policy areas such as nucelar disarmament.  Holdren’ appointment is another signal that science “holds the key to our suvival as a planet and our security and prosperity as a nation.”

There is a very good chance that important and significant change will take place within the White House because of the recent appointments of not only Holdren, but the new Secretary of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration.  Listen to President-Elect Obama’s announcement of these science appointments and after listening, ask yourself as a science educator how his comments and these recent appointments might impact science education.