Next Gen Science Standards unveiled

Next Generation Science Standards, which aim to teach scientific thinking as well as knowledge, were announced Tuesday, reports, the New York Times. Science teachers, scientists and federal science developed the guidelines, collaborating with 26 states that have pledged to consider adopting them.

The focus . . . (is) on learning how science is done: how ideas are developed and tested, what counts as strong or weak evidence and how insights from many scientific disciplines fit together into a coherent picture of the world.


. . . educators foresee more use of real-world examples, like taking students to a farm or fish hatchery to help them learn principles of biology, chemistry and physics.

They want students to learn to construct at least basic versions of scientific models — the simplified representations of reality that undergird tasks as diverse as building a skyscraper that will not collapse, designing a drug to treat illness and accurately predicting the effects of global warming.

In addition to the 26 states involved with the standards-writing process, several others are expected to consider adoption. However, the standards’ call for teaching evolution and man-made climate change may be an issue in some states.

“The standards identify climate change as a core concept for science classes with a focus on the relationship between that change and human activity,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Middle school students, for instance, will be taught that human activities, including the use of fossil fuels and the subsequent release of greenhouse gases, are “major factors” in global warming. A proposed high school standard requires students to explain, based on evidence, how climate change has affected human activities through such phenomena as altered sea levels, patterns of temperature and precipitation and the impact on crops and livestock.

. . . Other topics set for more thorough study include genetic engineering and its real-world impact on food and medicine.

Conservatives haven’t attacked the Next Gen Science Standards — so far.

James Taylor of the Heartland Institute, a Chicago-based conservative think tank, told Ed Week the standards are an improvement. “They are more balanced and fair than most educational guides I have seen put out by advocacy groups or self-professed science groups,” Taylor said.

Everyone agrees that teachers will need training to teach the new science standards.

Don’t ‘teach the controversy’

Oklahoma students and teachers would have a right to explore scientific controversies, under a bill proposed in the state legislature, reports the Oklahoman. It appears to be an attempt to introduce “intelligent design” into biology classes on evolution, writes Dan Willingham. In any case, it’s a waste of class time

Why shouldn’t science teachers “teach the controversy?” Isn’t it the job of teachers to sharpen students critical thinking skills? Isn’t it part of the scientific method to evaluate evidence? If evolution proponents are so sure their theory is right, why are they afraid of students scrutinizing the ideas?

Imagine this logic applied in other subjects. Why shouldn’t students study and evaluate the version of US history offered by white supremacists? Rather than just reading Shakespeare and assuming he’s a great playwright, why not ask students to read Shakespeare and the screenplay to Battlefield Earth, and let students decide?

. . .  Not every theory merits the limited time students have in school. There is a minimum bar of quality that has to be met in order to compete.

Modern scientists think all theories are open to emendation, improvement — and falsification, Willingham writes. In addition, g

ood scientific theories “change in the face of new evidence” and “continue to spawn new and interesting hypotheses.” While “evolution has been remarkably successful on this score for over 100 years,” intelligent design has been “static and unfruitful.”

Struggling to teach science

American Educator’s new issue includes: An Evolving Controversy, subtitled The Struggle to Teach Science in Science Classes on biology teachers under pressure to teach religious alternatives to evolution; World-Class Ambitions, Weak Standards on the 2012 state science standards, and Knowing Ourselves, How the Classics Strengthen Schools and Society.

Schools: Make us teach science or we won’t

California will require only one year of science to graduate from high school if Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed budget is approved, reports the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat.

It’s part of a move to give school districts more flexibility on how they use limited funds, says Brown’s budget director.

School leaders say schools will spend even more time on reading, writing and math if the state requires less science.

“To me, it’s absolutely astounding that the state of California, our leadership, would actually believe it would be appropriate not to have more science and actually have less science,” said longtime Santa Rosa School Board member Frank Pugh. “I hope the public really understands — they are dismantling, day-by-day, public education.”

Funding flexibility lets districts shift money to required programs or drop expensive classes, such as lab science, in favor of lower-cost classes, educators  said.  In recent years, that’s happened to adult education, maintenance, art supplies, career technical and libraries.

“I imagine that districts that are really struggling financially will probably pocket the money to help their finances,” Pugh said.

College-bound students need at least two years of lab science to apply to state universities. The change will affect students who aren’t on a college-prep track. Some might benefit from the flexibility to pursue career options, said Nancy Brownell, assistant superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Others believe all students need two years of science. “It’s a way to become analytical,” science teacher Patty Dunlap told the Press-Democrat.  “They don’t realize they are going to have to analyze everything they do in life,” she said. “All of our kids deserve the opportunity to have a well-rounded education.”

Of course, school districts can require more science than the state minimum.

Update: California’s science standards received an A in Fordham’s State of the State Science Standards 2012. Most states received a D or F.

In particular, state standards struggled with vagueness and an overemphasis on “inquiry-based learning” instruction, while overwhelmingly failing to clearly convey the crucial connection between math and science. Although the treatment of evolution has improved since Fordham’s last assessment of state science standards in 2005, many states still miss the mark on teaching this vital topic.

The District of Columbia also earned an A, while Indiana, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Virginia got an A-.  The F states, according to Fordham, were Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Wyoming.

Afraid of evolution

It’s been 86 years since the “monkey trial,” but most biology teachers still are afraid to teach evolution straight, concludes a survey of 926 public high school biology teachers.

Only 28 percent describe the evidence for evolution and “explain the ways in which it is a unifying theme in all of biology,” reports the New York Times.  Thirteen percent teach creationism or “intelligent design” as a valid alternative to evolution. The “cautious 60 percent” tell students they teach evolution only because it’s on the state exam.

Others treat evolution as if it applied only on a molecular level, avoiding any discussion of the evolution of species. And a large number claim that students are free to choose evolution or creationism based on their own beliefs.

“It’s horrible,” Science Guy Bill Nye, executive director of the Planetary Society, tells Popular Mechanics.

. . . if we educate a generation of people who don’t believe in science, that’s a recipe for disaster. . . . The main idea in all of biology is evolution. To not teach it to our young people is wrong.

For one fourth of high school students, biology is the only science class they take.

17 weirdest school bans

The list of 17 Weirdest Things Schools Have Banned, according to the Huffington Post, includes dancing, hugs, flags,  Father’s Day cards, grilled cheese sandwiches, “meep,” and a band T-shirt illustrating The Evolution of Brass.

Missouri’s Smith Cotton High School band designed and printed these T-shirts. “Several parents demanded the shirts, which seem to support Darwinism, be banned because of their religious beliefs. The school complied and bought all the shirts from students for $700 to keep them out of schools.” (KCTV 5)

Via The Plan.

Pastafarians seek equal time

Darwinian evolution? Intelligent design? In a letter to a Kansas school board,  Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster devotees demand that Pastafarian beliefs be taught in public schools along with other theories of creation.

Let us remember that there are multiple theories of Intelligent Design. I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster. It was He who created all that we see and all that we feel. We feel strongly that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him.

Pastafarians also want teachers to wear the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s chosen outfit, pirate regalia. (“He becomes angry if we don’t.”)

You may be interested to know that global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters are a direct effect of the shrinking numbers of Pirates since the 1800s. For your interest, I have included a graph of the approximate number of pirates versus the average global temperature over the last 200 years. As you can see, there is a statistically significant inverse relationship between pirates and global temperature.

The Church of the FSM is “today’s fastest growing carbohydrate-based religion,” claims founder Bobby Henderson. And no wonder.  The Pastafarian heaven features strippers and a beer volcano. My husband, a devour Frequent Flyertarian is considering conversion.

Wikipedia has more.

We're not evolved to love algebra

Learning can’t be fun all the time,  argues David Geary, a University of Missouri psychology professor, in a journal article and an e-mail to Curriculum Matters.

 The process of evolution, Geary says in the study, has resulted in students being able to acquire certain types of new knowledge and skills in a relatively “effortless” manner, through processes that are “child-centered” and fun.

. . .  Schools have attempted to use child-centered and fun methods, in the belief that students’ natural curiosity will lead them to take on certain, more difficult tasks, like learning to read or do fractions, in the same way they learn language or how to count, he says. But Geary argues that explicit, teacher-directed instruction will be needed for many children to learn more unfamiliar and difficult, or “evolutionarily novel information.”

Evolution “has not provided the scaffolding for this learning,” Geary told me. And so “the scaffolding must come from instructional materials and teachers.” Schools should not expect students to be motivated to learn this evolutionarily novel information in the same way they are motivated to learn through social relationships. “There is no such inherent motivation to learn linear algebra or Newtonian physics,” he said.

OK, it seems obvious, but not in the education world.