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Science Fiction

 

There are some who believe we are making progress with our science, math, engineering and technology students.

 

My advice, don't hold your breath!

 

An Editorial from the desk of fastoutofthegate.com

There is a crisis today in science education. Low standardized test scores abound, and there is not a great groundswell of interest in this discipline among the student population. Further, if these issues are not confronted and solved, there will be a number of economic and security ramifications for our country. While major corporations are taking the lead in innovative solutions, many educational as well as governmental bureaucracies seem to be dragging their feet (Business Roundtable, 2008). This is unfortunate, for without students mastering STEM concepts and preparing themselves for STEM careers, innovations in technology will lag behind Chin, India and other countries with a resulting loss of productivity and economic advancement for the U.S. (Business Roundtable, 2008).

Recent reports set new goals for science educators. First, students should be able to understand and utilize scientific explanations of the natural world while generating and evaluating scientific evidence (McGinnis & Robert-Harris, 2009). They must also be able to discuss, as well as interact, with science-based activities (McGinnis & Robert-Harris, 2009). These goals are in direct conflict with current practices that often emphasize a dualistic approach, i.e., implement the scientific method while memorizing an array of facts (McGinnis & Robert-Harris, 2009).

Other radical ideas have recently emerged as well. Primary school children, who have had enriching science experiences, are now seen as being able to master abstract ideas (McGinnis & Robert-Harris, 2009). This notion will allow teachers to engage these youngsters in authentic activities rather than subjecting them strictly to memorization drills. Certainly, this theory should be looked into more deeply. Finally, the educational cognoscenti have endorsed the idea of narrowing the science curriculum to a tight four (McGinnis & Robert-Harris, 2009). The remaining fields will include the study of cells, evolution, forces and motion and atomic-molecular theory. Undergirding this narrowing of focus will be the revisiting of concepts throughout the elementary and higher grades in the interest of mastery (McGinnis & Robert-Harris, 2009).


I particularly like the idea of starting very young children on the path to “thinking like scientists” as soon as they are ready. However, this will entail a great deal of differentiation of lessons within each classroom. I also have a positive view of teachers (representing various grade levels) coordinating the curriculum in the interest of creating a more seamless educational voyage for the students. In addition, I endorse giving professionals from STEM fields opportunities to interact with students. This will allow young people a chance to widen their scientific horizons as well as contemplate career choices. Lastly, I believe most classrooms have already adopted more open explorations, built-in assessments and discussions surrounding authentic experiments.

On the downside, all of these ideas will take up time in an already hectic daily schedule. Anecdotally, I have yet to find a teacher who has enough time to teach science adequately (high stakes testing in language arts and math take priority). I have also yet to meet a teacher who thought his/her students were adequately prepared to navigate through the present curriculum. Perhaps the only solution is enhanced teacher training and professional development as well as lengthening the school day and the school year. Vested interests will fight this but if we are serious about reform at the core of the problem, then we must make this happen.

Resources:

Business Roundtable. (2008). Tapping America's Potential: The education for innovation initiative: Gaining momentum, losing ground (progress report 2008).
Retrieved from the Walden University Library using the ERIC database.

McGinnis, J. R., & Robert-Harris, D. (Sept/Oct 2009). A new vision for teaching science. Scientific American Mind, 62–67.

 

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