5 Education Reform Posts Not To Ignore

Education reform in education seen through the lens of writers and teachers appears as repetitions of innovative ideas that claimed to change and improve schooling as we know it.  In a post at Education Week, Anthony Weiner suggests that education reform of any age simply offers more of the same.  In particular, he sees education reform over many decades focusing on the same themes: privatization and choice, as well as standards-based testing and accountability.  Over time, education reforms that have been suggested are moving the U.S. toward a more centralized education system, rather than a democratic system that is rooted in local communities, and schools.

For several months I have explored on this blog issues that impinge on the current reform that is based on high-stakes testing, and standardization of the curriculum.  The latest reform in science education is the development of the Next Generation of Science Standards by Achieve, Inc., in collaboration with NSTA, AAAS, and apparently, 25 states.  There are many professional educators who are writing about reform, and offering critiques based often on experiences on-the-ground in classrooms, and on educational research.

In this post I have selected five articles from online blogs that I frequently read, and use for my own research on science education, and the current status of reform in American schools.

I hope you find the articles worthwhile, as I have, and that you discover new writers who represent and write about alternatives to the current reform fiasco under the heading of standards and high-stakes testing.

Here they are.

Education Reform Posts Not to Ignore

Will National Standards Become the Operating System for our Schools?  Written by Anthony Cody, veteran science educator (Oakland, CA schools), and author of Living in Dialogue on Education Week Teacher, this article is a must read for all of us, especially science teachers.  Anthony Cody raises the important objection to the New Generation of Science Standards, as well as the Common Core Standards movement.  He suggests the standards movement is the antithesis of “autonomous professionals,” that is teachers who are “entrusted with crafting engaging lessons, and working with students in creative ways.  The standards movement kind of knocks the wind out that.  Read more ….

How Many Decades Before ‘Reform’ Becomes ‘Status Quo’?  In this Education Week post, the author traces a brief history of reform in American education starting in the 1980s with the Nation at Risk report, and going forward.  He concludes that each of the “reforms” that succeeded the back to basics reform movement of the Nation at Risk report were simply more of the same.  Read more

When Test Scores Become a Commodity. In this Education Week post, Jonathan Keller, an AP History and AP Art History teacher shows us how using student achievement test scores to evaluate teachers and administrators turns test scores into a commodity.  He says “by making student scores the basis for evaluation, the students and their scores create a market for the teachers and administrators whose livelihoods depend upon the results.”  Read more..

NCLB + RTTT = MOTS or No Child Left Behind Act + Race to the Top Fund = More of the Same. Reform in the 2000’s has been dominated by two Federal Programs, No Child Left Behind Act (2003), and the Race to the Top Fund (2010).  In this post we suggest that these two “reform” efforts have gone forward with little regard for research, but more devastating is the fact that the NCLB set into play a test-crazed culture of schooling that has led to untold cheating scandals, and undue pressure on students, teachers and administrators, not to mention parents.  Read more

Standardized Testing: The Modern Bloodletting?   Written by Vicky Davis, a technology teacher in Georgia, this post compares the modern system of testing as used in American schools to the archaic and harmful habit of draining blood from a sick person—bloodletting.  In a scathing analysis of how we use testing exhaust the minds of our students.  Read more….


9 Compelling Science, Technology & Education Blogs

There is a profusion of blogs on the Internet, but some of them stand out because they are not only compelling, but they convey accomplished, artful, intelligent, and powerful content.  I’ve selected nine blogs that I read regularly to expand my own thinking about science teaching, technology and education.   They represent the range of topics that interest me, and that I find are important.  I hope you will, too. Here they are.

  • Cool Cat Teacher Blog  The author of this blog is Vicki Davis, a full-time high school teacher of technology, and global curriculum developer in Camilla, Georgia. She is author of award winning wiki, blogs, and co-founder of the Flat Classroom projects You will find some of the most innovative ideas on teaching and technology on this blog, as well as a philosophy that clearly is progressive.  The name of her website is derived from the name the Westwood Wildcats, which was suggested by her students.
  • Dot Earth  Written by Andrew C. Revkin, Dot Earth is a one stop site to learn about the efforts to balance human affairs with the Earth’s limits.  The Dot Earth blog is part of the Opinion section of the New York Times. Here you will find an interactive site that you can use to explore the trends and ideas about the environment which you can share with your students.  It is a trusted environmental science website.
  • Education Matters Written by Chris Guerrieri, a teacher in Jacksonville, Florida, this blog is a very active site for reading about the issues that impinge on the day-to-day life of a teacher in the classroom.  Guerrieri imparts a very strong view of what’s wrong with education today (too many people in suits who have no clue about what’s happening in the classroom).  If you are looking for some support on issues like high-stakes tests, bullying, billionaires in education, poverty, and how teachers really make a difference, then you should go to his site.
  • Mr. Barlow’s Science Teaching Blog Mr. Barlow is a high school science teacher in Melbourne, Australia. His blog is subtitled “A Bunch of Interesting Stuff,” and you will clearly find an abundance of stuff here.  His blog is complemented by biology teaching podcasts, and Apps for the iPhone and iPad.  But for teachers, his site is a model for the way technology can be integrated into science teaching.  You’ll find examples of this at his site, and it is quite impressive.  Be sure to visit Mr. Barlow.
  • Schools Matter. This is a powerful site that addresses issues in “public education policy, and it advocates for a commitment to and a re-examination of the democratic purposes of schools. If there is some urgency in the message, it is due to the current reform efforts that are based on a radical re-invention of education, now spearheaded by a psychometric blitzkrieg of “metastasizing testing” aimed at dismantling a public education system that took almost 200 years to build.”  If you have not read a blog on social justice, I recommend you go over there.  There are several authors who contribute to the site including Judy Rabin, Jim Horn, Robert D. Skeels, and P.L Thomas.
  • Teachers Lead This is a website authored by Anthony Cody and Nancy Flanagan, each National Board Certified Teachers, with combined experience of more than 50 years.  Anthony was a science teacher in Oakland, California, and Nancy a music educator in Michigan.  Their commitment is to leadership from the ground up, and to provide the tools to teachers and administrators.  Anthony Cody manages a blog on the Education Week website entitled Living in Dialogue, and writes provocative essays on educational reform.  Nancy Flanagan writes a blog on Education Week entitled Teacher in a Strange Land.
  • The Dispersal of Darwin This is a blog devoted to all things Darwin, written by Michael D. Barton, who recently finished his graduate work the history of science at Montana State University. It’s one of my favorites. Here is what he says about his blog: My interests are with Charles Darwin, and the development of evolutionary theory. This blog is a place for me to share with interested folk news and views on Darwin, evolution, and natural history, with occasional posts about other science-related topics.  I’ve written a great deal about Darwin on my own site, and found that Michael’s site was the place to go for information and great images.
  • The Intersection Edited by Chris Mooney, The Intersection blog has for nearly 10 years brought analysis of the intersection between science, politics, and culture. Chris is a science and political journalist and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. If you are looking for cutting edge progressive science, then I highly recommend Chris’ blog.
  • The Royal Treatment I met Ken Royal more than ten years ago in Hartford, CT during a seminar I presented on science teaching for the Bureau of Education & Research. Subsequently I visited Ken’s middle school science classroom where he was doing scouting expeditions into the world of technology and telecommunications. In the 1990’s very few teachers had integrated the Internet into teaching. Ken was one of leaders of using the Internet in the classroom. Now Ken is with Scholastic where one of his responsibilities is writing the blog, The Royal Treatment. He says: After 34 years in education, working at all levels and areas, including as instructional technology specialist, it has been easy to look and write about these technologies and products from an educator’s point of view. I look forward to invitations to attend conferences, review products, and interview the people behind the products. It is also a joy listening to district leaders actually using these products to improve technology, management, curriculum and safety better in their districts. This is the blog for technology know-how.

Conclusion.  These are 9 compelling websites that will inform not only about science and technology, but science and education in society. You can visit the Cool Cat Teacher to find amazing ways to use technology with your students and connect with others around the world. The Royal Treatment will keep you up-to-date on new technology products and ways that schools are using them. For great ideas and science content, you should visit  Mr. Barlow’s site, and don’t forget his Podcasts and Apps. Science, technology and society (STS) is an important part of science education, and you’ll find great content at Chris Mooney’s Intersection site.   Education Matters, Schools Matter, and Teachers Lead are crucial sites for us to interact with educators who speak out on the issues that impact education today such as high-stakes testing, charter schools, standards proliferation, and teacher assessment.

Share your ideas.  What is your favorite blog site?  Share it here in the comments section so that others can benefit from your suggestion.

Science Teaching 3.0: A New Word Sign for Innovative Teaching

In the last post, I introduced the notion that we can look at science teaching, globalization, the Earth, and the World Wide Web using a three-point scale, e.g. 1.0, 2.0, 3.0.

Word-Signs: Science Teaching 3.0; Globalization 3.0; Earth 3.0; Web 3.0
Word-Signs: Science Teaching 3.0; Globalization 3.0; Earth 3.0; Web 3.0

In particular, I introduced the use of the word-sign Science Teaching 3.0 as a way of calling attention to the humanistic science paradigm (click here to read blog entries) that I have emphasized in my own teaching, and in this blog, and is documented in the literature of science education. In one of these posts I wrote this about the humanistic science perspective:

A humanistic science perspective tends to be context-based or science-technology-society based. Instead of a science concept being the starting point for learning, the humanistic science teacher starts with contexts and applications of science. Science concepts are explored within these contexts. Humanistic science teaching trives in STS programs, environmental science projects, gender projects, and culturally focused investigations. These experiences shed light on science-related social content for students, and often focus on the affective outcomes of learning, how students feel about science, how it impacts their lives, and what they can do to solve science-related social issues. Many teachers know from experience that projects like these help students see themsleves as citizen-scientists, using social and scientific processes to solve real problems.

The three categories of science teaching that I have identified (Science Teaching 1.0 or didactic teaching; Science Teaching 2.0 or inquiry teaching; and Science Teaching 3.0 or humanistic science teaching) do not represent a progression, or reflect the development of science teaching. Didactic teaching, inquiry teaching, and humanistic science teaching have co-existed for more than a century of science teaching. Didactic teaching represents a teacher-centered approach, and for many teachers is the most common way in which instruction is delivered to students. This approach supports a pipeline ideology, and the content of our courses is representative of the knowledge base or product of science. Didactic teaching can be interactive, and thoughtful teachers use a facilitative dialogue to engage students in the acquisition of science content. This content is normally articulated in the state’s , and the NRC’s National Science Education Standards.

Inquiry (science teaching 2.0) and humanistic science (science teaching 3.0) are student-centered approaches to teaching, although it is possible to differentiate inquiry oriented teaching from humanistic teaching by examining the contexts and starting points for learning. Many inquiry approaches to teaching use science concepts as starting points for investigation, whereas humanistic science approaches use applications and contexts as starting points.

Inquiry and humanistic science teaching offer a different set of goals for science teaching, and regard hands-on and minds-on philosophies as crucial in helping students achieve these goals. Inquiry goals acknowledge the importance of helping students learn how to “do” science by helping students learn to employ many of the methods that scientists use to solve problems. Humanistic goals recognize the value of science for everyday life, and for helping students develop positive attitudes toward learning, and science.

How does this play out in practice?

There was an interesting article in Education Week about Shira Blum, a fifth grade science teacher at the Academy for a the Americas, a Detroit public school. The article describes how Ms. Blum is using BioKIDS, an inquiry-oriented science program with her students. BioKIDS (Kids’ Inquiry of Diverse Species) was developed at the University of Michigan and is a grades 4 – 8 science program fostering scientific inquiry. Shura Blum’s students investigate the biology of environments surrounding the school in urban Detroit. The BioKIDS/DeepThink research group is involved in a research project to improve the learning of science in high-poverty, urban elementary and middle school classrooms—and their research work is particularly focused on the Detroit Public Schools.

BioKIDS is an outstanding example of a student-centered science curriculum. Students are actively involved by going outside exploring and making observations of living things. Students design experiments, and the project has designed a website that students use to extend their studies. According to Nancy Butler Songer, the Director of the BioKIDS project, the nature of the learning that takes place in the classroom is not so much dependent upon the “written” curriculum materials, but by how teachers use the materials in the context of diverse classrooms. In this innovative program, students become inquirers of their own environment under the guidance of their teachers, and using a constructivist program learn about biodiversity, habitats in their own schoolyard, microhabitats, and how to use their own data to make conclusions (click here for a research paper on BioKIDS by Songer).

In the context of this large urban school district (22 Detroit schools are involved), the project is well received by students, teachers, and administrators. In fact, students that participate in the project have done well on Michigan’s achievement tests.

Clearly, BioKIDS is representative of a new generation of inquiry science projects that are based on social constructivism and the learning cycle. Using concepts drawn from learning cycle research, BioKIDS curriculum is designed to emphasize and measure these important aspects of inquiry (see Songer):

  • The formulation of scientific explanations from evidence
  • The analysis of various types of scientific data (charts, graphs, maps)
  • The building of hypotheses and predictions (based on relevant evidence)

Another aspect of the BioKIDS project that is important is how it uses digital and Internet resources to help students “do” science. Using two tools, CyberTracker (used for field data collection) and Animal Diversity Web (online dataabase of animal natural history), the project enables student to complete richers investigations by these icon driven tools.

The Education Week article describes how several teachers are using the BioKIDS project with their students in Detroit. I think you will find it valuable to not only read the article, but visit the BioKIDS website.

Do you think this is an example of Science Teaching 2.0 or Science Teaching 3.0?

Do we hamper the real contributions of programs like BioKIDS by assessing their value in terms of how well students do on standardized tests?