In the previous post I talked about the announcement from the National Research Council (NRC) that they will spearhead an effort to develop a new generation of science standards. One of the major influences on the new effort by the NRC will be a report it published in 2006, entitled Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. The report was supported with grants from the National Academy of Sciences and the National Science Foundation. The report attempts to integrate research literature from cognitive and developmental psychology, science education, and the history and philosophy of science to find out what is known about how students in grades K through 8 learn science.
I wrote about this report, and this posted it in 2006; I’ve decided to re-visit it now, and update it with a few additional comments. According to documents published recently, a new generation of science standards will be developed over the next two years, and according to the NRC the new standards will look to its earlier report, “Taking Science to School.”
The report is interesting, and I recommend it to you. Here, I would like to focus on the Recommendations in the “Taking Science to School” report. I’ve italicized my initial remarks written four years ago. Updated comments are in parentheses.
1. We had better revisit the National and State Science Frameworks and revise them!—according to recommendation #1. This will be difficult, in my opinion, given the recent investment the Nation has put into the National Standards, and State Wide Testing.
Not true today. There is a powerful coalition of corporate, government, and state education agencis chomping on the bit for common national standards and money is flowing to support this effort. And there are very few critics of this trend.
2. The NEW FRAMEWORKS needs to be cut down to reflect a few core ideas in a discipline, e.g. geology, physics, chemistry, geology. This is not a new idea. For the past century we have traveled this path—of core ideas, conceptual themes, big ideas. Much of the language of science education has encouraged this kind of thinking. But it really has not been translated into practice. We cover too much in school, and this notion of covering all the major ideas in a discipline needs to be tackled. However, what we know about children and how they learn has changed, and coupled with the desire in the report to reduce the breadth of science could make for momentous changes—-in curriculum and in assessment strategies.
We’ll see on this one. Standards are still the views of a select or appointed group of specialists. They might not have the knowledge and experiences of the school science envionment.
3. New curriculum and standards should show science as a “process of building theories and models” using evidence. This is an important idea. The authors of the report went on to say that science needs to include more than “experiments”—you know what is meant here—the typical high school science experiment in which students verify an idea. We should expand our instruction here to include observational methods, historical analysis and other “non-experimental methods.”
4. Give students oppportunities in all four proficiencies identified in the report, and reported here:
- know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world;
- generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations;
- understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge; and
- participate productively in scientific practices and discourse.
5. Teachers need to become proficient in their ability to provide students with experiences where they carry out investigations, talk and write about their experiences, ideas and how to test them. Again, this is not new, there are many examples out there in real classrooms, but they are not widely implemented.
A report such as this one is important to the scientific and science education community because many of the future grants from the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education will no doubt require proposal developers to show how their projects will fulfill the recommendations of the report authors. Curriculum development in the K – 8 environment will be greatly influenced by the report, as well as teacher preparation progams.
Although I could not find listed any K – 8 teachers or administrators (most of the report authors and consultants were university professors), this may not be a serious criticism as many of the researchers involved in the report conduct their research with the K – 8 school environment, often in partnership with teachers, and will most likely empathize with the plight of K – 8 teachers. But it is worth noting.