Sixth Article in the Series on The Artistry of Teaching
Does neoliberal education reform consider the nature of adolescence and the advances in our understanding of how humans learn? Is it necessary for every American human adolescent to learn the same content, in the same order, and at the same time? Why should every student be held accountable to policies and plans that don’t consider their needs and their interests?
These are some of the questions that many educators ask themselves every day as they open their doors to their students who come from homes where there might be not enough food on the table, their father is un-employed, their mother is fearful that she might be deported, or their neighborhood school was closed during the summer and now they are in a different school.
Five articles were recently published on The Artistry of Teaching. Teachers know, but apparently policy makers don’t know, that teaching is not tidy. It involves a willingness to try multiple approaches, to collaborate with professional colleagues, and students to work through the realities of teaching and learning. It requires a deep understanding of the nature of human learning, the needs and aspirations of children and youth, and a recognition that these students are living a life that is real and not-imagined, and school should be experiential, providing activities and projects that are meaningful, risky, and collaborative.
Teachers who do this practice a form of artistry. Furthermore, artistry in teaching is practiced by educators who know how to mingle theory with practice. Teaching isn’t only the application of strategies or techniques, it’s an art form that involves high level thinking, on-the-spot decision-making, and creativity. As we have suggested on this blog, the magnum principiumof teaching is inquiry, which is a democratic and humane approach to teaching and learning.
For more than thirty years I worked with teachers and students who wanted to teach at the middle school and high school levels in science, mathematics and other fields, but principally science.
This is a “slideshare” program based on one of the multimedia presentations designed for the TEEMS interns and that I want to share here. I’ve included it in this sixth article on the Artistry of Teaching to show that teacher education students need not only backgrounds in science or mathematics, or history, or literature, but they need to embrace the content of the learning sciences. The Learning Sciences (public library), which is an interdisciplinary field, involving among others cognitive science, educational psychology, anthropology and linguistics, is the kind of knowledge that teachers use to do the art of teaching.
Adolescence and Middle School Curriculum
This particular slide show, which I titled Adolescence and Middle School Science, is a critique of the middle school science curriculum in the context of the nature of adolescence. There is a lot of content here, and when I used this in my course, the TEEMS interns had already spent a semester in clinical practice. During the presentation, interns were organized into small cooperative teams, and throughout the slideshare, we would stop and explore the implications of and our knowledge of, the “content of adolescence” and application to science curriculum.
In this slideshare, we looked at the middle school science curriculum in the context of adolescent students. In grades six through eight, no matter where you travel in the USA, kids are going to take a course each year in earth science, life science, or physical science. I spent several years (in the 20th Century) teaching earth science at the ninth grade level in Lexington, MA. The curriculum used then is not very different from the earth science curriculum of the 21st Century.
Is there a problem here? I think there is.
Curriculum tends to start with the content of science math, English/language arts or social studies, and not content of the lived experiences of students in class. This is not a new dilemma. It’s been around for a century. But there have been educators, starting with people like John Dewey or Maria Montessori who believed that learning should not only be experiential, but that it should engage students in real problems and issues in their own lives. Content should be in the service of students, not the other way round.
So, in the presentation, we face this conundrum, and suggest some ways that curriculum should be:
Structured more in terms of student interests
Science should be for people, and in that light, we suggest these directions:
Select those concepts and principles in science relevant to students’ daily life and adaptive needs
Do not based curriculum on preparing more scientists
Science must be put into the service for people and society
Connect students with today’s world
Develop life skills that improve the quality of living
Enjoy the presentation. Teaching certainly isn’t tidy or easy. But it is an art form practiced by lots of educators.
Unchanging fealty to a conservative agenda and a canonical view of science education restricts and confines Fordham’s review to an old school view of science teaching. Science education has rocketed past the views in two reports issued by Fordham about science education standards.
The Fordham reviewers use a strict content (canonical) view of science education and dismiss any reference to the scientific practices (science processes) and pedagogical advances such as constructivism, and inquiry teaching. Many of the creative ideas that emerged in science teaching in the past thirty years represent interdisciplinary thinking, the learning sciences, deep understanding of how students learn science, and yes, constructivism.
These creative ideas are not reflected in Fordham’s analysis of science teaching and science curriculum.
I have also studied and reviewed the draft of the Next Generation Science Standards and have written about them here, and here.
These two documents, The Framework and the Science Standards, will decide the nature of science teaching for many years to come.
In this post, I’ll focus on how Fordham has responded to these two reports.
In late 2011, the Carnegie Corporation provided financial support to the Fordham Institute to review the NRC Framework. The Fordham report was a commissioned paper (Review of the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 Science Education), written by Dr. Paul Gross, Emeritus Professor of Biology. The Gross Report was not a juried review, but written by one person, who appears to have an ax to grind, especially with the science education research community, as well as those who advocate science inquiry, STS, or student-centered ideology. Indeed, the only good standard is one that is rigorous, and clearly content and discipline oriented.
I’ve read and reviewed the Fordham review of the Framework, and published my review here. Here some excerpts from my review.
Grade: B. In general, Dr. Gross, as well as Chester E. Finn, Jr. (President of the Fordham Foundation), are reluctant to give the Framework a grade of “A” instead mark the NRC’s thick report a grade of “B”.
Rigor. Rigor is the measure of depth and level of abstraction to which chosen content is pursued, according to Gross. The Framework gets a good grade for rigor and limiting the number of science ideas identified in the Framework. The Framework identifies 44 ideas, which according to Gross is a credible core of science for the Framework. The evaluator makes the claim that this new framework is better on science content than the NSES…how does he know that?
Practices, Crosscutting Concepts & Engineering. The Fordham evaluation has doubts about the Framework’s emphasis on Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Engineering/Technology Dimensions. For example, Gross identifies several researchers and their publications by name, and then says:
These were important in a trendy movement of the 1980s and 90s that went by such names as science studies, STS (sci-tech studies), (new) sociology or anthropology of science, cultural studies, cultural constructivism, and postmodern science.
Gross also claims that the NRC Framework authors “wisely demote what has long been held the essential condition of K-12 science: ‘Inquiry-based learning.’ The report does NOT demote inquiry, and in fact devotes much space to discussions of the Practices of science and engineering, which is another way of talking about inquiry. In fact, inquiry can found in 71 instances in the Framework. Gross and the Fordham Foundation make the case that Practices and Crosscutting ideas are accessories, and that only the Disciplinary Core Ideas of the Framework should be taken seriously . This will result is a set of science standards that are only based on 1/3 of the Framework’s recommendations.
Various findings across 138 analyzed studies show a clear, positive trend favoring inquiry-based instructional practices, particularly instruction that emphasizes student active thinking and drawing conclusions from data. Teaching strategies that actively engage students in the learning process through scientific investigations are more likely to increase conceptual understanding than are strategies that rely on more passive techniques, which are often necessary in the current standardized-assessment laden educational environment.
The Fordham review of the Framework is not surprising, nor is their review of the first draft of the standards. Fordham has its own set of science standards that it uses to check other organizations’ standards such as the state standards. They used their standards as the “benchmark” to check all of the state science standards, and concluded that only 7 states earned an A. Most of the states earned an F.
If you download Fordham’s report here, scroll down to page 208 to read their science standards, which they call content-specific criteria.
I analyzed all the Fordham standards against Bloom’s Taxonomy in the Cognitive, Affective and Psychomotor domains. Using Bloom’s Taxonomy, 52% of the Fordham science standards were rated at the lowest level. Twenty-eight percent of their standards were at the comprehension level, 10% at application, and only 10% above analysis. No standards were found for the affective or psychomotor designs.
All I am saying here is that Fordham has its own set of science standards, and I found them inferior to most of the state science standards, the National Science Education Standards (published in 1996), as well as the NAEP science framework. You can read my full report here. I gave Fordham’s science standards a grade of D.
Fordham science standards are reminiscent of the way learning goals were written in the 1960s and 1970s. Writers used one of many behavioral or action verbs such as define, describe, find, diagram, classify, and so forth to construct behavioral objectives. The Fordham standards were written using this strategy. Here are three examples from their list of standards:
Describe the organization of matter in the universe into stars and galaxies.
Identify the sun as the major source of energy for processes on Earth’s surface.
Describe the greenhouse effect and how a planet’s atmosphere can affect its climate.
The Fordham experts raised concerns about the way standard statements are written. As shown in the examples from the draft of the NGSS, the standards integrate content with process and pedagogical components.
I agree with the Fordham reviewers that the Next Generation Science Standards are rather complex. Shown in Figure 1 is the “system architecture that Achieve used for all of the standards. Figure 1 shows just four performance expectations (read standards), and their connection to practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts. Every science standard in the Achieve report is presented in this way.
The Fordham reviewers gave careful attention to each standard statement, and indeed in their report they include many examples of how the standards’ writers got the content wrong or stated it in such a way that was unclear.
But the Fordham reviewers take the exception to the science education community’s research on constructivism. In their terms, science educators show fealty to constructivist pedagogical theory. To ignore constructivism, or to think that science educators have an unswerving allegiance to this well established and researched theory is quite telling. To me it indicates that Fordham holds a traditional view of how students learn. It tells me that these reviewers have boxed themselves into a vision of science literacy by looking inward at the canon of orthodox nature science. Content is king.
To many science teachers and science education researchers, an alternative vision gets its meaning from the “character of situations with a scientific component, situations that students are likely to encounter as students. Science literacy focuses on science-related situations (See Douglas Roberts’ chapter on science literacy in the Handbook of Research on Science Education).
The Fordham reviewers recommend that every standard be rewritten to cut “practices” where they are not needed. They also want independent, highly qualified scientists who have not been involved in the standards writing attempt to check every standard. The National Science Teachers Association, comprised of science teachers and scientists is quite qualified to do this, and indeed the NSTA sent their recommendations to Achieve last week.
I would agree with the Fordham group that the next version of the standards should be presented in a clearer way, and easily searchable. I spent a good deal of time online with the first draft, and after a while I was able to search the document, but it was a bit overwhelming.
Finally I would add that when you check the Fordham analysis of the new standards, the word “basic” jumps out. Near the end of their opinion report, they remind us that the science basics in the underlying NRC Framework were sound. What they are saying is that the NGSS writers need to chisel away anything that is not solid content from the standards.
One More Thing
Organizations such as Achieve and the Fordham Institute believe the U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing below par, and if something isn’t done, then millions of students will not be prepared to compete in the global economy. Achieve cites achievement data from PISA and NAEP to make its case that American science and mathematics teaching is in horrible shape, and needs to fixed.
The solution to fix this problem to make the American dream possible for all citizens is to write new science (and mathematics) standards. One could argue that quality science teaching is not based on authoritarian content standards, but much richer standards of teaching that form the foundation of professional teaching.
What ever standards are agreed upon, they ought to be based on a set of values that are rooted in democratic thinking, including empathy and responsibility. Professional teachers above all else are empathic in the sense that teachers have the capacity to connect with their students, to feel what others feel, and to imagine oneself as another and hence to feel a kinship with others. Professional teachers are responsible in the sense that they act on empathy, and that they are not only responsible for others (their students, parents, colleagues), but themselves as well.
The dual forces of authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing has taken hold of K-12 education through a top-down, corporate led enterprise. This is very big business, and it is having an effect of thwarting teaching and learning in American schools. A recent study by Pioneer Institute estimated that states will spend at least $15 billion over the next few years to replace their current standards with the common core. What will it cost to implement new science standards?
In research that I have reported here, standards are barriers to teaching and learning. In this research, the tightly specified nature of successful learning performances precludes classroom teachers from modifying the standards to fit the needs of their students. And the standards are removed from the thinking and reasoning provesses needed to achieve them. Combine this with high-stakes tests, and you have a recipe for disaster.
According to the 2012 Brown Center Report on American Education, the Common Core State Standards will have little to no effect on student achievement. Author Tom Loveless explains that neither the quality or the rigor of state standards is related to state NAEP scores. Loveless suggests that if there was an effect, we would have seen it since all states had standards in 2003.
The researchers concluded that we should not expect much from the Common Core. In an interesting discussion of the implications of their findings, Tom Loveless, the author of the report, cautions us to be careful about not being drawn into thinking that standards represent a kind of system of “weights and measures.” Loveless tells us that standards’ reformers use the word—benchmarks—as a synonym for standards. And he says that they use it too often. In science education, we’ve had a long history of using the word benchmarks, and Loveless reminds us that there are not real, or measured benchmarks in any content area. Yet, when you read the standards—common core or science—there is the implication we really know–almost in a measured way–what standards should be met at a particular grade level.
Loveless also makes a strong point when he says the entire system of education is “teeming with variation.” To think that creating a set of common core standards will reduce this variation between states or within a state simply will not succeed.
As the Brown report suggests, we should not depend on the common core or the Next Generation Science Standards having any effect on students’ achievement.
What do you think? Is Fordham’s view of science education consistent with your ideas about science teaching?
Note: This is the second post by Dr. Ingvar Stål, Senior lecturer in physics, chemistry, and science at the Botby Junior High School. In his first post, which you can read here, Dr. Stål gave us an overview of the Finnish educational system, which provides a basic education to all Finnish citizens ages 7 to 16, as well as a higher education. In the first post, Dr. Stål helped us understand the overall structure of the Finnish educational system, beginning with basic education, grades 1 – 6, followed by lower secondary, grades 7 – 10, and upper secondary, 11 and 12.
Dr. Stål teaches at Botby School, Helsinki, Finland. He conducts teacher training courses in science at Turku ( 92,6 miles or 149,02 km from Helsinki), School Resources. He is also doing research in Science Education for his second doctorate at Interdisciplinary Science Education, Technologies and Learning (ISETL), School of Education, University of Glasgow, UK ( 1098,8 miles or 1768,3 km from Helsinki) under supervision of Professor Vic Lally.
In this post, Dr. Stål writes about the methods that science teachers use in Finnish classrooms by comparing the behavioristic teaching of school physics, which is teacher-centered (TCM) to the humanistic science inquiry oriented (HSIO) method, which student-centered (SCM). This post is based on a research paper by Dr. Stål which you can read in full here.
By Dr. Ingvar Stål
In class, regardless of the country there is always a central figure – the teacher. The teacher knows how to work with students, in order to involve them in teaching process. The teacher is responsible for the organization of curriculum content for the students. Therefore, the teacher must have appropriate education for this activity.
Finnish Science Teachers and Teaching
In the Finnish comprehensive school, teachers still have a respectable position in society. The education of physics teachers takes about 5 years and is carried out by local universities, and as additional training to obligatory specialization.
After this training teachers receive a Mastes Degree in a subject and a Teaching Certificate. For example, a teacher may have a Masters Degree in Physics and Certificate of Teaching in Physics at Lower Secondary and Upper Secondary Schools. In order to receive this certificate candidates must have at least 60 credits in Pedagogy Studies and Practice.
In recent years in the Finnish comprehensive schools there has been a shortage of Physics teachers. In the Finland-Swedish comprehensive school year 2008 only 57,1 % physics teachers had a Teaching Certificate . There are several reasons for the physics teacher shortage: lack of candidates, preference to work as a physics teacher at upper secondary school due to problems with discipline and low level of curriculum content, low salary compared to the amount of work and responsibilities.
The common responsibilities of science teachers are as follows : teaching, preparation of lab work and demonstrations, ordering of material and instruments, design of assessment tests for students, maintain contact with students’ parents.
Science educators, especially during the past 50 years, have been instrumental in developing curriculum and teaching methods that are intelligent, prudent, reflective, and thoughtful. Underlying science education has been the well-advised and deliberate attempt to encourage inquiry- and problem-based teaching. Not only has this been on solid ground in the U.S., but in most nations of the world.
Working Out How Students Learn
During this time, researchers in science education, and in the newly established field of the learning sciences began to work out some of the principles that help us understand how people learn. Much of this work is described in several publications, including How People Learn (National Academy Press, 2000) by Bransford, Brown and Cocking.
The term that has recently emerged to help us understand how people is the learning sciences, which is an interdisciplinary field including cognitive science, educational psychology, computer science, anthropology, sociology, information sciences, neurosciences, education, design studies, instructional design and other fields.
The research in the learning sciences has led to several findings about how people learn (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000).
1. Students come to the classroom with preconceptions about how the world works. If their initial understanding is not engaged, they may fail to grasp the new concepts that are taught, or they may learn them for purposes of a test but revert to their preconceptions outside the classroom.
If you have 30 students in your biology class, you know that not all of the students come into your course with the same preconceptions. Do we think that it is possible for all of them to leave the class with the same level of “knowing?”
2. To develop competence in an area of inquiry, students must have a deep foundation of factual knowledge, understand facts and ideas in the context of a conceptual framework, and organize knowledge in ways that facilitate retrieval and application.
This principle, which comes from research comparing experts and novices in a field of study, does not mean that students should be fed a diet of factual information. The principle worked out here means that students must be engaged in active learning and given many opportunities to learn with understanding, to use inquiry to explore ideas, and be engaged with other students in solving problems.
By the way, the test questions that constitute the high-stakes tests are random questions that require memory and guesswork. Instead of helping students develop conceptual frameworks within science (or any other subject), the high-stakes testing syndrome reinforces the notion that we are testing nothing more than factual knowledge, completely out of context. How can this process possibly measure the kind of deep understanding that ought to characterize schooling in a democracy.
3. A “metacognitive” approach to instruction can help students learn to take control of their own learning by defining learning goals and monitoring their progress in achieving them.
Many science teachers know that metacognitive tools really help their students understand science. However, because we are shooting for an end of the year test that requires bubbling an answer form, helping students be reflective and try and take responsibility for their learning goes by the wayside. Metacognition requires “internal conversation” and teachers who encourage this in their students are pushing hard to overcome the day-to-day pressure to teach to the test. Helping students be reflective thinker takes time. Reflective activities such as journal keeping, reflective postings on the Internet, and small group discussions might not fit into a teacher’s schedule if the real premium is on well the students do on “the test.”
The model of teaching that seems to capture these three principles is constructivism.
Constructivism explains learning as a meaning-making process dependent on prior knowledge and individual interpretation. Thus, constructivism is the theoretical framework that supports the enduring push for teaching science by inquiry methods. If teaching were merely the process of communicating a message, then we could simply tell students key ideas (such as the definition of scientific theory) and achieve the instructional objective.
Is What We Are Doing Frivolous, Capricious, and Unreasonable?
So, why is it that science education in K-12 schools has accepted and acceded to standards-based and high-stakes testing that characterizes teaching and learning in today’s schools?
Why has education accepted the notion that one set of learning standards can be used with all students, regardless of where they live? Why do we continue to administer high-stakes achievement tests to determine whether or not a student has learned? Why do we assume that these tests measure student learning and that the one responsible for student progress is the teacher when we know that about 70% of the effect on learning is from outside the classroom? Why?
The Next Generation Science Standards, which the developers claim is state led, are far from the realities of classrooms and teachers, and represent a collection of performance objectives that are expected to be learned by all students, regardless of where they live. The evidence is that where you live has a profound effect on learning, more so than the effectiveness of teachers. Creating one set of science standards for nation of 15,000 school districts simply does not make sense.
If we want professional societies to develop science standards, all well and good. But, the selection and implementation of standards should be a local decision made by teachers who have the knowledge and understanding of their students.
Research in the learning sciences would argue against using high-stakes tests. These high-stakes tests are frivolous, capricious and unreasonable. The tests are not a measure of what students learn. They are a collection of discrete test items, written by strangers, that are used in disparate classrooms around the country. State department officials have convinced themselves that their tests are measuring not only student learning, but can be used to compare student scores from one year to the next, and make assertions about learning progress. I don’t think so.
Community Based Education
The learning sciences can be used as the rationale for more local control over teaching and curriculum development. Teachers are the ones who know how to implement the findings of the learning sciences to make science learning active and inquiry-based focused on helping students understand science and know how to use science to solve problems. We need to get out the way and let professional teachers do their work.
The preposterous continuation of holding students and teachers hostage by making them follow someone else’s standards, and someone else’s high-stakes tests makes no sense, except to the officials at state and federal departments of education, and the core group of corporate meddlers.
What do think about standards-based science education? Do you think high-stakes, end of the year tests should be used? Do they measure student achievement in your courses?
Standards-Based and High-Stakes Science Education: Frivolous, Capricious & Unreasonable? Tell us what you think.
Science As Inquiry, a construct developed in a recent publication, weaves together ideas about science teaching and inquiry that were developed over many years of work with practicing science teachers in the context of seminars conducted around the U.S.A, in school district staff development seminars, and courses that I taught at Georgia State University.
Science As Inquiry provides the practical tools, based on theory and research, that science teachers use in their classrooms to involve their students in inquiry learning, including hands-on investigations, project-based activities, Internet- based learning experiences, and science activities in which students are guided to construct meaning and develop ideas about science and how it relates to them and their community.
Inquiry science teaching by its very nature is a humanistic quest. It puts at the center of learning not only the students, but also how science relates to their lived experiences, and issues and concepts that connect to their lives. Doing science in the classroom that is inquiry- based relies on teachers and administrators who are willing to confront the current trend that advocates a standards-based and high stakes testing paradigm.
The dominant reason for teaching science is embedded in an “economic” argument that is rooted in the nation’s perception of how it compares to other nations in science, technology, and engineering. This led to the development of new science curricula, but it also led to the wide scale use of student achievement scores in measuring learning. Student achievement, as measured on “bubble tests,” has become the method to measure effectiveness of school systems, schools, and teachers, not to mention the students.
Disconnect with Standards & High-Stakes Testing
Although the organizations that have developed the science standards (National Research Council) advocate science teaching as an active process, and suggest that students should be involved in scientific inquiry, there is a disconnect between the standards approach and the implementation of an inquiry-based approach to science teaching.
We need to pull back on the drive to create a single set of standards and complementary set of assessments, and move instead toward a system of education that is rooted locally, driven by professional teachers who view learning as more personalized, and conducted in accord with democratic principles, constructivist and inquiry learning, and cultural principles that relate the curriculum to the nature and needs of the students.
Effects of Inquiry
Science education researchers have reported that inquiry-based instructional practices are more likely to increase conceptual understanding than are strategies that rely on more passive techniques, and in the current environment emphasizing a standardized-assessment approach, teachers will tend to rely on more traditional and passive teaching techniques.
Inquiry-based teaching is often characterized as actively engaging students in hands-on and minds-on learning experiences.
Inquiry-based teaching also is seen as giving students more responsibility for learning. Given that the evidence is somewhat supportive of inquiry-based science, our current scheme of national science standards emphasizing a broad array of concepts to be tested would tend to undermine an inquiry approach.
Teachers who advocate and implement an inquiry philosophy of learning do so because they want to inspire and encourage a love of learning among their students. They see the purpose of schooling as inspiring students, by engaging them in creative and innovative activities and projects.
Science As Inquiry embraces 21st century teaching in which inquiry becomes the center and heart of learning. Science As Inquiry provides a pathway to make your current approach to teaching more inquiry-oriented, and to embrace the digital world that is ubiquitous to our students.