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Changing Science Education

April 10, 2013

Every few years we get a new call to change science education. The latest attempt is the Next Generation Science Standards, designed through a multi-year study by educators led by the National Academy of sciences. So far the press has emphasized that the new standards require teaching evolution and climate change. But there is far more. Some tidbits:

  • Kindergarteners should learn, “What happens if you push or pull an object harder?” They should investigate the question, and “Analyze data to determine if a design solution works as intended to change the speed or direction of an object with a push or a pull.”
  • First graders should  “Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.”
  • Second graders should “Make observations to construct an evidence-based account
    that Earth events can occur quickly or slowly.”
  • Third graders should “Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.”

    What do you think children should be learning about science?
  1. April 10, 2013 11:22 am

    Learn the process. If children would learn to see the world through the lens of science, habits of critical thinking about other areas of life would come more naturally. Social issues might become less emotionally entrenched, politicians would be forced to test pilot policies before implementation, etc, etc.

    The lack of understanding of this process is quite evident in the students I teach at university. Freshers hoping to be science majors are rarely able to devise hypotheses, especially testable ones. If the creme of the crop cannot do that, what must the rest of society be like?

    I don’t see much difference in learning the scientific process and dealing with social problems in life – e.g. detecting who is lying to you or cheating. Most people can do that. So why shouldn’t children learn how to do that in other areas of life?

    • April 10, 2013 12:10 pm

      The sad thing is we don’t teach children that either, how to tell the difference between truth and lying. If they did, certain religions would be out of business. Sorry, it has to be said.

      • Alex Tolley permalink
        April 10, 2013 2:35 pm

        Just certain religions? 😉
        On a related note, I have read that the humanities students now have better critical thinking skills than the STEM students. I put that down to too much rote learning in the sciences. Given that science knowledge is exponentially increasing, we really need to focus our teaching on how to find out and evaluate information, rather than stuffing every more thinly spread knowledge into their heads like a database.

        • April 10, 2013 2:49 pm

          When a religion requires belief based on faith (such as the “resurrection”) that is a different move from claiming their belief is based on science (“creation science” and “intelligent design.”) For example, the modern Catholic and Jewish faiths, and many Protestant denominations (such as Episcopalian and Congregationalist) have no problem with science.

  2. April 10, 2013 2:54 pm

    humanities students now have better critical thinking skills than the STEM students.

    Is that so? I’d be interested to see the source. It’s true that “logic” is traditionally taught in the philosophy department.

    I do think that our American education system–and science classes–fail to teach logic early enough. I learned logic as a child from the sixties fad game WFF’n Proof; but nobody else I knew learned it. When I consulted for a law firm, they said most scientists fail to understand enough logic to interpret laws.

  3. April 11, 2013 12:24 am

    I always feel that there is some generalized ‘class’ missing from education plans–some studying of thought-processes, problems of scale, ‘logic+’, if you will. But I’ve never been able to formulate it properly–all I know is that it would be the class the teachers hated the most–and it would be the class in which students learned important things one doesn’t usually learn in school.

    Also, it’s very tough, especially in the youngest students, to try to teach something unusual without putting strange ideas in their heads.I must be thinking about a syllabus of emotional education–I think the biggest challenge for future students will be the enormous divide between how we feel and how we think, and again, in how we act–and this is never addressed–even in a sex education or health course.

    But I’ve always been more interested in the theories of education than the actual work of being a teacher.

  4. Hillary Rettig permalink
    April 11, 2013 7:53 am

    Critical thinking for sure. they should learn about ecology, esp. sustainability, open vs. closed systems, carrying capacity, limiting factors, etc. I’ll bet someone (not me!) could come up with some nifty demos and experiments that would work at a junior level. // Beyond that if there were some way it could be taught in a positive way, with hopefulness and solutions instead of Malthusian despair, that would be great.

  5. April 11, 2013 3:53 pm

    Will the press ever stop citing the evolution “controversy”? It drives me nuts! The only controversy is in the tiny minds which refuse to think or are simply incapable of even the simplest reasoning.

    Ignorance is completely excusable if one is willing to learn. Willful ignorance is simply inexcusable.

    As for the points you quoted, they seem a pretty good start.

    It seems to me that one of the most important functions of all education, science or humanities, is to promote critical thinking.

  6. JamesPadraicR permalink
    April 12, 2013 10:57 am

    Until a few days ago I hadn’t heard of STEM, then watched a presentation by Yo-Yo Ma in which he proposes adding Arts, making it STEAM.
    Can Yo-Yo Ma fix the arts

    After all a lot of art has been inspired by science, providing new ways of looking at the world–goes both ways. Cubism was at least in part by Relativity, for one example. Need I mention SF? And other literature too.
    The video’s a bit long, but worth it for the performance pieces alone.

    • April 12, 2013 11:14 am

      This is neat! Yes, there are strong connections between music and science. Many of the great scientists were musicians; and music study at an early age helps learn math.

  7. April 12, 2013 11:17 am

    One of the (many) horrible results of state defunding of schools (Ohio Gov. Kasich advised voters to vote down school levies; then he “fixed” school funding by proposing to restore mainly funds lost by rich schools during the downturn) is the loss of art and music classes. We now are seeing science students who never learned how to represent 3D perspective–because that skill is taught in art class.

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