Pencils Down: Experiments in Education

Quanta Magazine, an online magazine to enhance public understanding of research developments in mathematics and the physical and life sciences, is taking an in-depth look at changes in science and math education. In a four-part series, Pencils Down: Experiments in Education, reporters examine the new developments in education, including the Next Generation Science Standards, and the impact they are having on science education.

education_hinemizushima_2kCHAPTER 1: PLAN (October 5, 2016)
Meet the New Math, Unlike the Old Math
By Kevin Hartnett
The latest effort to overhaul math and science education offers a fundamental rethinking of the basic structure of knowledge. But will it be given time to work?



teachers_zmmc_2kCHAPTER 2: TEACH (October 11, 2016)
The Art of Teaching Math and Science
By Thomas Lin, Siobhan Roberts, Natalie Wolchover and Emily Singer
The impasse in math and science instruction runs deeper than test scores or the latest educational theory. What can we learn from the best teachers on the front lines?


helen_quinn_1920x1080CHAPTER 3: STUDY (October 18, 2016)
A Wormhole Between Physics and Education
By Thomas Lin
The theoretical particle physicist Helen Quinn has blazed a singular path from the early days of the Standard Model to the latest overhaul of science education in the United States.



shareCHAPTER 4: SHARE (October 20, 2016)
Do You Love or Hate Math and Science?
By Thomas Lin
Quanta Magazine invites readers to share about their early math and science learning experiences and to explore the interactive survey results.

Districts begin alignment to new science standards

SHERIDAN — The days of memorizing vocabulary out of a science book will soon be gone.

The Sheridan Press (Wyoming) reports that on Sept. 24, the Wyoming State Board of Education adopted new science standards for Wyoming schools. School districts will have until the 2020-2021 school year to adjust their science curriculum.

A complete overhaul of curriculum is no small task. So how will local districts make that transition?

Assistant Superintendent Mitch Craft said that on Oct. 12, during the district’s in-service day, Sheridan County School District 2’s secondary science teachers and administrators held a three-hour collaboration concerning ways to approach the new science standards.

Craft emphasized that in the future, there will be several meetings between teachers and administrators. These will be done primarily using the professional learning community format.

Yet, Craft said that wasn’t the first time teachers have taken a hard look at the new standards.

“Our teachers have honestly been examining it since word got out that there were going to be new standards,” Craft said. “So, they’ve been making that transition for several years.”

At the September SBE meeting, Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow said that around half the school districts in the state have already shifted their curriculum to the new standards. Sheridan County School District 1 is one of those districts.

Click here to read the full story in the Sheridan Press (October 18, 2016)

WV science standardized tests may change again

The West Virginia Board of Education may vote Wednesday or Thursday to again change the grade levels in which public school students take end-of-year science standardized tests.

Unlike the federal requirement for states to annually give standardized tests in math and English language arts to grades three through eight and once in high school, federal law only requires annual science standardized testing in one of the elementary school grades, one of the middle grades and one of the high grades.

In the 2014-15 school year, the state school board approved a waiver of its own policy to reduce for that spring West Virginia’s requirement for science exams from grades three through 11 to just in grades four, six and 10.

In 2015-16, the board approved a policy change to make that science testing reduction permanent — alongside making permanent the 2014-15 waiver’s elimination of social studies standardized testing in all grades. The federal government doesn’t require any standardized testing in that subject.

Education Week reported that the American Institutes for Research “brought together psychometricians, science education experts, and state leaders for two days of discussion in Washington on how to turn the standards into state summative exams.” West Virginia was among the represented states, alongside California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

“Although states are trying to collaborate and work together, the tests are going to differ across states,” Jon Cohen, president of AIR assessment, told Education Week.

He said the tests would include commonalities, but Education Week reported test results “won’t likely be comparable across states.” The news outlet reported the tests will have few to zero multiple-choice questions, “many questions will use computer simulations and have students conduct virtual experiments” and most states will cover topics from several grades in a single test.

Click here to read the full story in the Charleston Gazette-Mail (October 8, 2016)

Overhauling Math and Science Education

Quanta magazine, online publication seeking to enhance public understanding of science explores the efforts to overhaul math and science education with Common Core and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

“While the ultimate impact of both the Common Core and NGSS is still uncertain, it’s clear these standards go beyond simply swapping one set of textbooks for another — to really take hold, they’ll require a fundamental rethinking of everything from assessments to classroom materials to the basic relationship between teachers and students.”

“NGSS and the Common Core are a significant departure from the way science and math have been taught, but they didn’t come out of nowhere. In fact, they’re consistent with a trend that’s been slow-boiling for a half-century.”

“Teaching in this fashion can be exciting, but it will take sustained commitment for these techniques to ripple through the 100,000 or so public schools in the United States. In order for the new science and math standards to succeed, the entire education ecosystem will need to pull in that direction, from writers of standards to textbook publishers to professors in education schools to curriculum leaders running professional development sessions, to teachers swapping lesson ideas online. Just as the core concepts in math and science require repeated encounters over many years to be fully absorbed, a new practice of math and science teaching will need time to become established.”

Click here to read the full article in Quanta (October 5, 2016)

Rhode Island science scores continue to slide

The Providence Journal reports that no school district and no groups of students made significant improvements in science in 2016, according to the Rhode Island Department of Education. In fact, this year’s results continue a four-year decline in science proficiency.

State Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said there is a reason for the poor showing. In 2013, Rhode Island adopted the Next Generation Science Standards, but the current assessment (the New England Common Assessment Program or NECAP) is much more focused on subject matter, so the test no longer reflects what students are learning in the classroom.

“There is a mismatch between our test and our new standards,” Wagner said.

Rhode Island is in discussions with other Next Generation states about what the new assessment test that will replace the NECAP should look like, and Wagner hopes it will be up and running in 2018.

Click here to read the full story in the Providence Journal (September 27, 2016)


New science standards approved by the Wyoming Board of Education

wyoming-tribune-imageThe Wyoming State Board of Education voted unanimously Friday to approve the 2016 Wyoming Science Content and Performance Standards, the first new science standards in 13 years, according to a release from the board.

The standards will now be sent to Gov. Matt Mead. If the standards are approved, school districts will develop local curricula to implement the standards by the 2020-21 school year.

“We are very pleased to be moving forward with new science standards built by an engaged and diverse group of educators, administrators, business people and parents throughout Wyoming,” said Pete Gosar, chairman of the state board. “The public input process on this was lengthy and robust. We applaud and appreciate Laurie Hernandez and the entire Wyoming Department of Education’s efforts and analysis throughout the process.”

Modeled after the Next Generation Science Standards written by the National Research Council in collaboration with the National Science Teachers Association, with significant input from 41 educators, parents, business leaders and community members, the new science standards are customized for Wyoming students, according to the release.
Click here to read the full story in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle (Sept. 24, 2016)
Click here to read a press release issued by the Wyoming State Board of Education

Encouraging the Scientists of Tomorrow

In an opinion piece in the Santa Barbara publication, Noozhawk, Santa Barbara Superintendent of Schools Bill Cirone explores the states new science education standards. 

Having a strong scientific background enables students to make informed decisions about issues that affect their lives, and helps prepare them for a future that, in many ways, is unpredictable.

Recognizing the critical role science plays in a student’s academic and intellectual development, California recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. This adoption marks the first science-standards update since 1998.

While the old standards heavily emphasized knowing scientific facts and theories, the new standards address all three dimensions of science: content, concepts and practice.

That intellectual growth is valuable not only for those students who go on to become scientists or engineers, but also for the great majority of students who do not follow these professional paths.

The new standards are great developments in science education. They capture the wonder, curiosity and excitement most students bring naturally to science. By engaging students in these concepts and practices, teachers help them develop the skills to think like scientists and engineers.

Click here to read the full article in Noozhawk (September 21, 2016)


Montana adopts new science standards

The Montana Board of Public Education adopted new science standards for public school students Friday at a meeting in Bozeman.

The standards have benchmarks for what students are supposed to learn at certain grade levels. They don’t dictate how teachers get students there, as local districts have control over their curriculum.

The new guidelines resemble the Next Generation Science Standards, which were developed by a 26-state group in 2013 and are considered by many to be more rigorous than most previously instituted standards.

Click here to read the full story in the Billings Gazette (September 16, 2016)

St. Vincent de Paul School embraces new science standards

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City implemented the Next Generation Science Standards in all Utah Catholic Schools this year. These new standards explore content at a deeper level, provide more hands-on science experiments, and include practices scientists use in the field.

Click here to read the full story in Intermountain Catholic (September 2, 2016)

Here’s What We Know About the Next Generation Science Standards Tests

ngss imageEducation Week’s Liana Heitin reports that many states plan to start testing students on Next Generation Science Standards in the spring of 2018.

She writes that last week, the American Institutes for Research, a research and evaluation nonprofit that is contracting with some states to design and implement NGSS tests, brought together psychometricians, science education experts, and state leaders for two days on how to turn the standards into state summative exams. The states represented included California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia. (New Hampshire and Utah didn’t officially adopt the NGSS, but New Hampshire is considering adoption and Utah adopted standards based on the NGSS framework for grades 6-8.)

The meetings were closed to the press, but she spoke with Jon Cohen, president of AIR assessment, and Gary Phillips, AIR’s senior vice president and an institute fellow about some of what the attendees decided at the gathering.

In a nutshell, while the tests will most likely differ from state to state, there will be much in common.

Click here to read the full article in Education Week (August 31, 2016)