100 Best Education Blogs

Who are the top education bloggers?  I am not sure it that is the most important question being asked given the current state of education, but it has been asked, and the results are in.

Based on the work of Will Roby, a compilation of his favorite blogs to read was recently posted on this website.

You will find blogs written by teachers, students, about college, graduate school, library and research, technology, online education, learning theory, specialty blogs (artofteachingscience.org is ranked here, #90), and a miscellaneous grouping of blogs.

I am not sure if these really are the 100 best education blogs, but the author of the list has reviewed each one, and given his insight into why he put it on the list.

Science Teaching eBooks from the Art of Teaching Science Are Coming Soon

Special Announcement - Hand Drawn BlueScience Teaching eBooks, based on articles and posts in The Art of Teaching Science will be available soon on this blog.

From “Is it Pedagogy or Petrology: How To Teach Science Real Good“, to “Why do we teach science, anyway?” these eBooks will explore topics that have rated high on the blog, and have shown reader interest.

Look for the first of the eBooks in the days ahead.

In the meantime, peruse through the categories listed in the heading, select one that interests you, and browse through the posts on the topic. Or better still, select a topic of your choice, and type it into the search block at the top of this page.
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Finally, are there any topics in this blog that you would like to see turned into a Science Teaching eBook? Write your suggestions in the comments block just below. Readers will be most appreciative.

Science Teaching: A Dilemma in Any Language

Depending upon the language you use the phrase “science teaching,” it conjures up different meanings and attitudes in the minds of our youth. In some cultures, science classes do not rate very high among students, although at the same time, they will assure you that science is important in the lives of its citizens. In some cultures, very few students want to pursue careers in science, whereas in other cultures, students see science as important to the well-being of their citizens, and because of this they want to pursue studies and careers in science.

I saw a report yesterday on one of the TV networks that there are more than million jobs for engineers available right now, yet the CEO of the company that was being interviewed indicated that he could not find more than a few thousand to fill the vacancies.

I have also read reports that indicated that many students who pursue studies in science at the undergraduate level do not pursue careers in science after graduation.

We have a dilemma not only in the USA, but in many countries around the world in efforts to reform science teaching and education in general. Most of the reform efforts are top down, and have created great unrest at the playing field level. Although efforts to improve science teaching over the past 50 years have often had its origins a the Federal level, eventually enough teachers spoke up that in the second round of reform (in the 70s), more and more teachers were involved in the writing and development of science curriculum. But that changed, especially beginning in the mid-1980s, but the angst that appears in todays culture pits teachers against efforts to reform and change schools. Its a very odd reality.

In this blog, it is assumed that teachers have the professional expertise to make decisions about not only what to teach in the science curriculum, but how to do this, and what makes the most sense for the students in their classrooms. But to listen to shouts of business tycoons like Bill Gates, you would think that teachers don’t know Jack!

The dilemma we face is one that goes to the heart of the profession of science teaching, and that is that within the community of science teachers, there is the wisdom to enact change, and chart a new direction to improve science teaching. Teachers need to be approached as the key partners in the educational reform, not the outsiders that need to managed and tested. Science teachers are like the researchers at IBM, or Apple, or the Concord Consortium in that they are quite capable to uncover and discover new ways of teaching, as these researchers make new discovers and applications.

There is more to be said on this issue. What do you think?


The Fallacy of Focusing on Teachers as a Means to Reform Schooling

Some educators and corporate leaders would have us believe that the single most important factor influencing student achievement is the student’s teacher. They have launched a campaign to use student learning data to rid the schools of ineffective teachers.  There is no research evidence to support the claim that the teacher is the single most significant factor influencing student scores on end of year high stakes tests.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published two articles on teacher evaluation this week, and each of the authors, Jaime Sarrio, and Maureen Downey,  failed to include reference to published research on what influences student learning, and whether using student test scores is really a good idea in determining the difference between effective and ineffective teachers. As pointed out in the articles, Georgia received $400 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s Race to the Top Program and will implement a plan in which 50% of a teachers evaluation will be based on student test score data.

Using a model of assessment known as “Value-Added Modeling” (VAM) to measure student growth, a predicted score for a individual teacher is established based on student achievement gathered from previous years.  Once this trajectory or predicted score is known, comparisons can be made to determine effective and ineffective teachers.  But studies have shown that among teachers who scored in the the top 20% of effectiveness one year,  fewer than a third were in the top group the next year.  And another third of these effective teachers moved all the way to the bottom 40%.  As one researcher said, this runs counter to most people’s notions that the quality of a teacher is likely to change very little over time.  These research results raise serious questions about being able to measure the “teacher effect.”  If the students in the teachers class “do better” than the teachers’ VAM, the department of education would rate this teacher higher than a teacher whose student’s scores fall beneath his or her VAM. Sounds very straight forward, doesn’t it.

Bill Gates has a simpler idea. Measure the students on the way into class, then measure them again when they finish the course. From this you can calculate gain scores.  Bingo! You know if the teacher’s game is on. Neither of these ideas, using VAM or pre-post-testing has research evidence to back up the use of student test scores to make personnel, salary decisions or being able to differentiate between effective and ineffective teachers.

Every one of the hundreds of Georgia science teachers that I worked with in graduate programs at Georgia State University, and those teachers in whose schools I worked with in curriculum development projects, teacher education projects, and international environmental science projects know that what and how students learn is more complicated than what the Georgia Department of Education’s view on using student test scores to measure teacher effectiveness.

They know that the hundreds of students that they have taught come to school from real homes and families that vary considerably, and that many other out-of-school factors, which they can not control have a major influence on how students are motivated to learn, behave in school, get along with each other and are ready to learn. These professional teachers also know that many in school factors influence student learning.  The quality of leadership in their school is an important factor in creating learning environments that support teacher innovation and teacher decision making. And then there is the curriculum. Is the curriculum supportive of new research in the learning sciences that shows that student learning requires student to be the active participant in learning, and that their learning is largely dependent on teachers helping students make sense of their environment and construct meaning.  What a student learns in a science class, for instance, is somewhat dependent on the student’s active participation in learning.  In the 21st Century, the role of the teacher is to facilitate student learning, not pass information onto to students as if they were passive receptors of knowledge and information.

And then there is the issue of teacher and administration collaboration. Research into schools that foster collaboration among teachers, within a subject area or across subjects leads to a more professional work environment in that teachers with diverse professional experiences and expertise share with each other best practice, and discuss among their collaborative teams issues specific to curriculum.  In instances where there is a high degree of teacher collaboration, student test scores appear to improve. But collaboration might not be seen as important now that the State wants to weed out the “ineffective” teachers by using individual test scores posted by individual teacher’s students.

The quality of the teacher in the classroom is surely a significant and important factor influencing student learning.  But it is only one of many in-school and out-of school factors.  Researchers estimate that about 1/3 of student learning is influenced by in-school factors, and the quality of the teacher in the classroom is only one of at least four factors.  At most, the teacher on a good day might influence 1/3 of students learning growth, but in reality is more likely shared with other in-school factors including the quality of leadership, the nature of the curriculum, and degree of teacher collaboration.

Rating teachers using report cards and methods that rely on testing is a dangerous path. The research is not supportive on the use of use of student test scores to evaluate teachers. In fact the Board on Testing & Evaluation of National Academy of Sciences sent a letter and report to the US Department Education prior to release on the Race to the Top guidelines that States used to submit their proposals.  The Board stated in its letter: “VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable.”

Instead,  the Race to the Top officials insisted that student test data be used in any model of teacher evaluation. They went ahead with this mandate even after receiving Board on Testing & Evaluation letter and supporting research.

Should teachers be evaluated?  Of course.  But as in the business world, a more comprehensive, and holistic approach needs to be used to evaluate teachers.  There are much better ways to evaluate teacher performance that are grounded in research on teaching and learning.  Many school districts have worked with university researchers to develop systematic observation protocols with well developed, research based criteria to observe and examine teaching.  In addition to classroom observations, competent supervisors and peers can evaluate  teachers using videotapes of classroom teaching, teacher interviews, and artifacts of teaching such as lesson plans, assignments, teacher websites, and samples of student work.  Using this approach, a body of evidence is developed that gives a more comprehensive picture of a teachers professional work.

We need to be careful not to fall into the trap advocated by educators such as Joel Klein (former chancellor of N.Y.C. schools, and Michelle Rhee (former superintendent of the D.C. schools), and corporate heads such as Bill Gates that the single most important thing we can do to improve schools is removing incompetent teachers.  No one would question that we would hope that our students’ teachers are competent—indeed, outstanding.  But as I have shown here, student learning as measured on achievement tests is only influenced “in part” by the teacher, and that there are many out of school and in-school factors that influence student learning.  We need to stop harassing teachers, step out of the way, and let with them work with their colleagues, and leaderships teams to creative innovate, creative, and healthy learning environments for all students.

Further Reading:

Why do we teach science?

There is a new generation of science standards on the way. The Conceptual Framework for New Science Standards has been developed by a committee selected by the National Research Council, with funding from the Carnegie Foundation. The Framework will guide the development of new standards, which will be written by Achieve, a non-profit organization established some years ago by the National Governors Association.

The new Framework does not answer the question “Why do we teach science?,” but does inform us what students should learn. I have read the report, and there is no discussion of why we teach science. Here is an opening paragraph from the Draft Framework in which what students should learn is explained:


This framework lays out a set of goals for what students should learn in science and in engineering. These goals for science and engineering education are informed, first and foremost, by a view of the essential elements of science and engineering that must be conveyed to all students. The first step in identifying these elements must be an exploration of what we perceive science to be, of the distinctions between science and engineering as practices, and of the diversity of practices engaged in by scientists and engineers.

Why do we teach science in the first place? This question is always been important, but much of the reform going on in the US today has not addressed the question directly. What one has to do is examine the goals of a particular curriculum or reform report, and then infer what the authors would say if asked, Why do we teach science in first place?

For example, the National Science Board, in its September 2010 report on Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators stated that the development of the Nation’s capital through schooling was an essential building block for the future of innovation.

The report’s authors outline recommendations in three areas including opportunities for excellence, casting a wide net to attract individuals to science, and create an environment that will foster innovation. The rationale for the NSB report is embodied in these two stated rationales:

  • The nation’s economic prosperity, security, and quality of life depends on the identification and development of our next generation of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) innovators
  • Every student in America should be given the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.

In their view the economic prosperity of America, and science for all appear to be rationales for teaching science.  As you will see later in this piece, the “economic argument” is only one of several arguments that help us answer the question: Why do we teach science?

In doing research for this piece, I came across R. Steven Turner’s paper on science education. Turner, in his keynote speech to the CRYSTAL Atlantique Annual Colloquium, addressed the issue as seen in the title of his talk: Why do we teach science, and why knowing matters. In his address, Turner explored four different arguments that could be used to answer the why question. The arguments are identified as:

  • The Economic Argument
  • The Democratic Argument
  • The Skills Argument
  • The Cultural Argument

Why we teach science is embedded in these arguments.  Much of Turner’s paradigm for looking at why we teach science is based on work by Robin Millar of the University of York, and author of several works on science education.  A brief discussion follows for each argument.

Which of these arguments represents why we teach science in your view?  Is there one argument that dominates school science today?  Is there one or more that dominates the reform agenda of science education?

The Economic Argument–the pipeline view in which students are channeled upward to post-secondary schools to study science, technology and engineering. The goal is produce more scientists and engineers to meet the supply demands in science-related fields. The problem is that crises in manpower shortages has been greatly exaggerated and only 2/3’s of people majoring in science actually take jobs in science. Comparative data used from TIMMS and PISA achievement scores has undermined science teaching and is used in policy debates as if the results are flawless. The argument goes that if we can boost the test scores of 15 old boys and girls, the nation’s economy will grow. This results in more of the same curriculum and more time in class. The new national framework for a subsequent set of science standards is a good example of reform rooted in the economic argument. Content of science is emphasized and comparisons with the 1995 science standards shows little difference.

The Democratic Argument–in this view we teach science to prepare students to be informed citizens and knowledgeable consumers. The curriculum would be quite different than the economic/standards-based design. It would focus on the technological and real-world applications of science.  Science curriculum would focus on what students would need to know to participate in key controversies of the time, global warming, energy, environmental issues, and health.  The democratic is another name for the humanistic argument advocated by science educator Glen Aikenhead, especially in his book Science for Everyday Life: Evidence Based Practice.  The humanistic argument is the central argument in the STSE movement (science, technology, society, environment).  The STSE movement is not the dominant paradigm used in science curriculum, although one can find “STSE Standards” in the NSES publication.  After examination of the new framework, STSE is still not considered “main stream” by the developers of the NRC New Generation Framework for the Science Standards.  Yet the research, as reported by Aikenhead, and others, supports the inclusion of STSE curriculum in school science, and that it does contribute to positive attitudes among students who take science courses.  The Democratic Argument offers a view of the science curriculum that is more student-centered, and related to life-experiences of students within the context of science.

The Skills Argument–The Skills Argument suggests that the mere study of science instills certain transferable skills that are important to students’ understanding of science.  The skills argument is the process of science argument that is strongly advocated by science education researchers, and by organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association.  Indeed, the skills argument claims that students should be involved in hands-on activities, analyze data, and plan open-ended investigations.  The skills argument is the argument that suggests that teachers should use an inquiry-approach to teaching and help students learn how to practice inquiry.  Much of science teacher education is oriented around an inquiry-approach to science teaching, and students of science education are steeped in the theories of Piaget, Vygotsky, Dewey, Bruner, and others who advocated this approach.  Indeed, if you peruse the journal Science Education or the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, inquiry appears as a dominant term in any search.  A good discussion of the science as inquiry approach is the testimony that Professor Julie Luft gave to the Commerce, Justice and Science Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives. The inquiry-approach is not without problems.  In fact, survey data shows that inquiry teaching is not the dominant pedagogy used in science classrooms.  The lecture/presentation approach is the most frequently used method of teaching science.  Inquiry-oriented teaching requires a reorientation to teaching, and one that requires teachers to employ small team learning, as well as encouraging students to explore science and to ask questions.

The Cultural Argument–The cultural argument suggest that the history and philosophy of science should play an integral role in science curriculum.  Presently, lip service is played to this approach.  Robin Millar argues that we must reduce the amount of content that dominates the science curriculum, and in its place present to students a coherent and cohesive world picture of science that tell students stories of sciences great stories from quarks to superclusters and genes and gerontology.  The cultural argument could produce a curriculum that would interest students, and might reduce the general trend which is the more science courses students take, the less they like science.