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New Standards Are Coming
There is a lot you can learn from reading state science standards. Mostly, you learn that there is little difference between the standards of the 1980’s and those of the new decade. There are some changes coming. They cannot come soon enough.
Throughout my science teaching years, with the exception of a bit in the 1970’s, science has been taught in disciplines. Biology teachers taught life science and chemistry teachers taught chemistry. They talked a bit, but seldom did the disciplines merge. There is a lot of chemistry in the study of biology and chemistry could benefit from making those connections and applications. I think the reason they were so separate is that it is tough for any science teacher to have a rich deep knowledge of both disciplines. Likewise, teachers become a bit turf protective of our science disciplines. All of that does not help kids learn.
The not so new movement emphasizes standards that work across many disciplines. This integration was called for in the groundbreaking “Benchmarks” book from AAAS and a little in the NRC document from the 1980’s. States made minor movements towards this ideal but not a lot. The standards that came out were still discipline-specific and had too many concepts to teach deep in a lifetime of science.
What may be different is the mood of teachers across the country. Science has been dwindled down as we focus on math and reading for state tests. Inquiry research has shed light on how students learn science. Harvard helped us see that we were teaching a lot of misconceptions and we are ready for something that works better. Technology will help us communicate and share materials. There are a host of new media projects that will help illustrate science ideas.
The old standards were a mile wide and an inch deep. Life science was particularly full of all the new stuff (Genome project, DNA, cancer, and new disease resistant bacteria to name a few). Physical science just listed the mountain tops like atomic structure knowing that there was a ton of prerequisite understandings necessary for kids to get a good grasp of these abstract concepts. So, with the best intentions we were left with a mountain of standards and no real guide to move through this with real students in a shrinking time slot.
The new standards are improved. Time will tell if they have improved and slimmed down enough to make sense to the practitioners in the classroom. My hope comes from teachers who are gathering in record numbers on twitter and other social platforms to try to figure out what is most important to teach in science. Check out these twitter sites: #iacopi, #scichat,or #stem. The best solutions will come from the trenches. Science teachers are better educated than ever before, more connected to real scientists, more connected to each other and we are all ready for a new day.
I would suggest a look at some of the state science standards. Some come with activities and labs suggested and shared and some give pretty good explanations. The reason I would ask you to look at these is to get us all ready to see if the new set is an improvement and really pared down to a manageable set of what is important. You have heard me blog on about the big ideas in science. I am still there. The big ideas in science have power to inform, instruct and cross the invisible discipline boundaries. I want us all to be able to identify them when they show up in our state standards and make sure there is more of that thinking and a bit less of the old teach it all mentality.