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Sunday, August 22, 2010

National Science Standards Coming

By David Wojick Ph.D.
Co-Director of the STEM Education Center

The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences has embarked on a bold project to kick off the development of a new generation of K-12 science education standards. A NRC committee of scholars is developing a “conceptual framework” for the new national standards. See:

My STEM Ed Center colleague Bernie Monahan and I each submitted comments on the draft NRC Framework document. They draw upon our new empirical model of which science concepts are taught when in K-12. Our model is basically a set of lists of those science terms that are typically taught in the USA, sorted by grade level. Here are the links to our comments:



Our working definition of a concept is "what you have to know to use a term correctly." That is, a concept is a body of core knowledge. So our lists of terms are actually lists of basic concepts, not just vocabulary lists. Our model is not about words; it is about knowledge.

The grade levels are our estimate of the mean average grade at which each concept is taught in the USA, based on a sample of state standards. The range for a given concept among the states can be quite large, to the point where the average grade is actually the exception. So we are not recommending these grades as necessarily the ones a standard should specify, although it might minimize disruption if that were done. The grades are simply empirical data. But as we note in our comments, the Framework grade bands are structurally inconsistent with actual practice.

Our basic finding is that it looks like we teach these concepts at a rate of between one to two concepts per hour. This seems like a heavy load indeed, so I call science education today a “marathon of sprints.” Moreover, every concept is clearly significant, so there is no obvious slack in the system. Hence our conclusion is that new concepts can only be added if some are taken out.

By the same token, some of the new methods being proposed for teaching these concepts appear to take longer on a per concept basis. This is especially true for collaborative inquiry methods. If so then adopting these methods would also require dropping some concepts from the standards, perhaps a lot of concepts. As I say in my comments, it looks like a zero sum game. That is the fundamental challenge.

By way of a personal introduction, here is an early article about my regulatory work. My background is in concept analysis and confusion: http://www.stemed.info/engineer_tackles_confusion.html. I am approaching the science standards issue as a regulatory problem, not an educational one. That is, it is about writing the right rules. Standards are rules.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Disparity Among Standards

By Heather Smelser, M.Ed., NBCT

Teacher Consultant for the STEM Education Center

In an article today by the Star Tribune from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, Norman Draper and Allie Shaw report that “Student scores on the Minnesota state science test continue to improve, but at a slower pace than last year.” They cite the fact that in Minnesota’s schools the students do not have to pass the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCA) II Science Tests to graduate but their educators say, “the science tests have an importance that goes beyond scores and passing rates.” The article states that the teachers realize that science is a field where students in the US must excel to keep up with our technological advances and to compete globally. See the complete article here: http://www.startribune.com/local/99283559.html?page=1&c=y.

Minnesota’s school systems, like systems nationwide, are seeing the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineerying and Math) Education. From that knowledge the states have developed standards that they hope will lead their students in the right direction to keep up and compete.

As a Teacher Consultant for the STEM Education Center, I have been able to compare the standards developed by each of our fifty states. Access our findings here. What we found was a disparity among state standards in the breadth and depth of what is expected from each state’s teachers and students.

Written standards range from one state’s expectation that 6th through 9th grade, “Students can understand and apply concepts related to mechanics, forces, and motion” to another state’s standard that says, “The student will investigate and understand basic sources of energy, their origins, transformations, and uses. Key concepts include potential and kinetic energy; the role of the sun in the formation of most energy sources on Earth; nonrenewable energy sources (fossil fuels including petroleum, natural gas, and coal); renewable energy sources (wood, wind, hydro, geothermal, tidal, and solar); and energy transformations (heat/light to mechanical, chemical, and electrical energy).”

It is glaringly obvious that the states are paying attention to basic concepts in what they want their students to be able to know and do but when standards are written in such different formats what exactly will the student be learning and how is the teacher supposed to assess what they have done?

This is but one example of state standards but shows the obvious disparity in how states are trying to achieve that STEM Education.

A Teacher Needs Tools to Teach the Standards

Dear STEM Education Team,

I am a teacher who spends countless hours searching for material to enhance my lessons. I am tired of not finding what I need on the internet or in my classroom textbooks. My county gives me the science standards that I am to teach, but I don’t have any resources to go along with them. Where can I go to easily find what I need?

A Weary Science Teacher

Dear A Weary Science Teacher,

I understand your frustrations in your attempt to find science material. I have Great News for you! There is an Educational Website that will help you! It is www.scienceeducation.gov. You will find thousands of federal science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) education resources on this website. You can search for your science terms and your results will be tagged by average grade level. The hits will include lesson plans, curricula, classroom activities, homework help, and information relating to professional development. This portal integrates federal agency online educational material to make them searchable via a single query.

ScienceEducation.gov is different than any other educational compendium because it offers a one-stop access to all federal STEM education content. This means you no longer have to search all different websites or government agencies to find the resources that you need. With ScienceEducation.gov, you will find relevant educational resources from various agencies and websites.

Also, ScienceEducation.gov allows you to narrow your search by grade ranges. The STEM Education team has done the work for you. The STEM Ed Team determined the grade level appropriateness of STEM topics through comparison with state education standards. Using this grade level stratification (GLS) tool, the ScienceEducation.gov resources are examined and an estimated grade range is assigned to each. This helps you know the grade appropriateness of the resource you have found. You no longer have to to sift through thousands of hits on other sites.

ScienceEducation.gov is available to the public. You can access the site, use the materials, and conduct a search anonymously. You can also register (for free) and enhance the site by tagging; providing content, media, or data knowledge; providing general guidance and comments on the resources, and rate the material on the site.

Good luck in your Science searches,
Cristin Livngston
STEM Education Consultant