Juneau Students Get New Science Lessons in 2019

A new science curriculum approved Tuesday will send Juneau (Alaska) School District elementary students out of the classroom and into the community.

Starting next year, guidelines for kindergarten through fifth-grade students will emphasize “place-based” and “culturally relevant” learning, two approaches taking hold in national teaching standards. The new curriculum was also written with Next Generation Science Standards, a national framework written by a group of 26 states.

The 82-page document guides teachers in lesson and unit planning. It was developed with extensive input from local scientists, Tlingit elders and teachers, authors Carin Smolin and Pam Garcia said. The curriculum was last updated in 2011.

The idea is to have science learning more closely mimic science work: the scientific process always starts with a question or an observation based in the real world. Place-based learning progresses similarly.

“It’s not about memorizing scientific facts, it’s more about thinking and acting like scientists and engineers because in the real world, you observe phenomena and then you wonder and you ask questions and you make connections to learn about how the world works,” Garcia said.

Click here to read the full story in the Juneau Empire (Feb. 15, 2018)

Idaho Senate Drills Down Into Nitty Gritty Of Science Standards

The third year — and possibly final year — of the Idaho Legislature’s science standards debate could come to closure next week.

The Senate Education Committee spent an hour taking public testimony on science standards Wednesday afternoon. As expected, the committee took no action. There is no date set for a vote, but it appears likely that the committee will vote next week.

Wednesday’s public hearing was more of the same, as senators heard another round of one-sided testimony. More than a dozen people testified — including teachers, parents, students and business lobbyists — and every speaker supported passing the controversial science standards in full, including references to climate change and fossil fuels.

But senators also spent some time drilling down into the finer details of the standards, and especially wording that their House counterparts rejected one week ago. The House Education Committee rejected one science standard, referring to air pollution and fossil fuels, and about a dozen pages of “supporting content” that refer to climate change.

Most of the standards have been approved without controversy. But the three-year-old debate at the Statehouse has centered on climate change — and what the science standards should say on the matter. Lawmakers have deleted language referring to climate change, forcing a State Department of Education to reconvene a committee of 19 educators to rewrite the standards last spring. But the rewrite still didn’t pass muster with House Education, which voted 12-4 to edit the standards even further.

But in essence, the process starts over in the Senate. The Senate can override the House’s action if it votes to adopt the standards in full.

Speakers urged senators to do just that, saying schools need to teach students about issues such as climate change.

“How are we to address and solve problems if we don’t know what they are or what caused them?” said Veronica Richmond, a 12-year-old student at the Treasure Valley Math and Science Center.

“It is important that students have an understanding of the issues,” said Trent Clark, a former state Republican Party chairman who now lobbies for Monsanto.

Click here to read the full story in the Idaho Ed News (Feb. 14, 2018)  

In Fight Over Science Education in Idaho, Lawmakers Move to Minimize Climate

When Idaho lawmakers scrubbed all mentions of human-caused climate change from the state’s education standards last year, they faced a swift backlash from teachers, parents and students who said that censoring science would leave students disadvantaged, jobs unfilled and the state unprepared for the future.

On Wednesday, the Idaho House Education Committee approved a revised set of standards that included some discussion of climate change. But the committee cut a section on the environmental impact of nonrenewable sources of energy and removed supporting content for standards that contained multiple references to human-driven warming.

The House committee’s decision is not final. The state’s Senate Education Committee will have a chance to weigh in, and the standards will need final approval from both chambers.

“The way I see it is, it disregards science and the scientists who are out there doing the work,” said Erin Stutzman, a science teacher at Timberline High School in Boise who has been following the battle between over the guidelines. Last week, a number of Ms. Stutzman’s students testified at a committee hearingand called for lawmakers to approve the revised standards in their entirety.

Click here to read the full story in The New York Times (Feb. 7, 2018)

Lawmakers Delay Action on Proposed Science Standards in Idaho

For a second consecutive day, a large crowd Friday at the Idaho Statehouse offered enthusiastic, unanimous support for a slate of proposed new science standards.

And for a second consecutive day, the House Education Committee took no action.

At issue is a politically charged controversy over the science standards that will be taught in Idaho’s K-12 public schools and charters.

In 2016, legislators quietly rejected a proposed slate of science standards after some lawmakers made comments about the age and history of the universe and global warming. At the time, legislators said more public input was needed, but they declined to accept public comment on the standards at the Statehouse that year.

Last year, in 2017, the Legislature approved a temporary slate of new science standards after first removing five paragraphs that reference climate change and human impact on the environment. Those standards are set to expire, which is why legislators are considering science standards again this year.

Public testimony ran 7-0 in favor of the full science standards Thursday, and 21-0 in favor of the standards Friday. During public hearings in 2017, public testimony ran 995-5 in favor of passing the full science standards, State Department of Education officials said.

Many of the teachers, students and scientists who testified this week said students deserve a full, well-rounded education rooted in inquiry-based science standards. Removing references to climate change, they said, would amount to censoring their education and would hurt their ability to confront the challenges of a changing planet in the future.

Lawmakers are expected to vote on the standards this session.

Click here to read the full story in the Idaho Ed News  (Feb. 2, 2018)

Idaho House Education Committee To Take Up Science Standards Feb. 1

The Idaho House Education Committee will consider a proposed slate of new science standards during hearings Thursday and Friday at the Statehouse.

At issue are standards that will be used in Idaho’s K-12 public schools and charters.

Last year, lawmakers approved science standards on a temporary basis after first removing five paragraphs that reference global warming and human impact on the environment.

Those standards are now set to expire.

After the 2017 session adjourned, a team of Idaho science teachers, university officials and industry representatives developed a new set of proposed science standards and gathered feedback on them during public hearings last year.

News of the hearings broke Friday afternoon, and the House Education agendas appeared Friday on the Legislature’s Internet page. It’s unusual, but not unprecedented, for committee chairs to announce hearings several days in advance.

Click here to read the full story in the Idaho Ed News (January 26, 2018)


Two Years Ago, IL Students Took a State-Mandated Science Test. Schools Just Got The Results

Results from a new state test have been released two years after students turned it in, and the budget impasse is getting the blame for the delay.

But some local educators say there’s still plenty to learn from the dated scores about the way they teach.

The Illinois Science Assessment was given to students in 2016. That’s when the state expected schools to have a new curriculum in place based on updated standards for what children should be learning about science.

In Highland District 5, Assistant Superintendent Derek Hacke said the lessons became more hands-on with students, from building things to doing experiments in class.

“We’re trying to do science rather than just read about science,” he said.

Some school officials who saw their students fall short on the assessment said that their curriculum changes either hadn’t hit classrooms by 2016 or that the concepts may have been too new for students to grasp them.

“The two-year-old data will be viewed as a baseline from which to grow,” said Sydney Stigge-Kaufman, spokesperson for East St. Louis District 189. She said schools have since made changes to help students.

The students who are required to take the Illinois Science Assessment each year are in fifth and eighth grades. High school students taking biology for the first time are also tested.

Statewide, an average of 57.5 percent of fifth-graders and 61 percent of eighth-graders in 2016 were considered proficient in science. An average of 40 percent of high school students met the expectations.

More than 90 metro-east schools scored above those averages.

Click here to read the full story in the Belleville News-Democrat (January 26, 2018)

Colorado Students Would Have To Do Science To Learn It Under New Standards

The old way of teaching science would have had Denver science teacher Melissa Campanella giving a lecture on particle collisions, then handing her students a lab that felt a bit like following a recipe from a cookbook.

Now she starts the same lesson by activating glow sticks, one in hot water, the other in cold. Her students at Noel Community Arts School make observations, brainstorm what might cause the differences they detect, come up with models and visual diagrams that map those ideas, share those models with each other, revise, read about the collision model of reactions, and revise again.

“Before, they would maybe know basic ideas from memorization, and maybe they would retain this information long enough for me to give a quiz on it,” Campanella said. “Now they have a better understanding of why those fundamental rules exist, and because they drew those conclusions themselves, they remember it better.”

This is the future of science education as envisioned by the scientists and educators who developed the Next Generation Science Standards. A committee working to revise Colorado’s science standards has recommended we adopt a modified version of them. Because Colorado has local control, individual school districts will still be responsible for their own curriculum, but the standards will lay out what students are expected to know at each grade level.

These science standards are part of the same sweeping philosophical shift in how we teach that brought us the Common Core math and reading standards, and provoke some of the same tension about what’s more important: knowing a thing or knowing how we know it? At the same time, the website promoting the Next Generation standards takes great care to say these are not part of the Common Core standards, which have become heavily politicized and are often seen as an example of federal overreach.

Colorado’s State Board of Education, the science standards review committee, and the state’s science teachers will have to navigate this terrain between now and this summer, when the new standards need to be finalized — and then for years to come as they’re implemented in Colorado classrooms.

Click here to read the full story in Chalkbeat Colorado (January 26, 2018)


Pa. Can Do More to Upgrade STEM Education

As a practicing Pennsylvania classroom science teacher for more than 30 years and a National STEM Teacher Ambassador, I appreciate the good work Gov. Tom Wolf has done for education and his advocacy to increase resources for education. His recent Op-Ed “Why it’s essential for Pennsylvania to invest in education” points out how far the state has come in regard to education. I agree we have come a long way, but there are two significant impediments that state lawmakers and leadership could be addressing in regard to the state of STEM education in Pennsylvania.

Our science and technology standards were conceived in the 1990s and adopted in 2002. They were birthed in an age where VHS tapes were common and adopted five years before the first iPhone was rolled out! These standards do not emphasize engineering, they teach subject disciplines as unrelated silos and lack the innovation and 21st century content or practices that STEM jobs require.’

What is more alarming is that these standards are the source for Pennsylvania’s PSSA science exams, the exams that all districts, teachers and students are accountable to in the Commonwealth. If districts choose to deviate from teaching to these 15-year old standards, they jeopardize their performance and status by the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s policy.

With state testing, it is often said “we treasure what we measure.” Pennsylvania’s education policy forces state schools to treasure 1990s science and technology thinking instead of assessing modern STEM thinking in classrooms. Education policy drives district resources. If Pennsylvania education policy is focused on 1990’s-era science and technology standards and assessments, districts will follow suit until policy is updated to adopt modern STEM standards and assessments.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are an excellent source of STEM-like standards. These standards were created by states and for states. They offer best practices in critical thinking, collaboration, core principles, engineering, technology, math, and cross-cutting concepts. Pennsylvania’s neighboring states have adopted NGSS and are gaining a competitive edge over our students’ STEM readiness. For more than 10 years, Pennsylvania politicians and leadership have lacked the political will to provide the best STEM standards for the students of Pennsylvania. I urge Gov. Wolf and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to “invest” and adopt modern STEM classroom standards like NGSS. Each day our schools teach to the 1990s-era standards is another day our students fall behind their peers from neighboring states in STEM readiness.

In addition, Gov. Wolf’s Op-Ed mentioned how his administration has reversed the trend of years devastating school cuts. That is becoming evident and I am thankful for that work. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Education(PDE) also has suffered devastating cuts through the years and the reverses from those cuts are yet to be seen. PDE is one of the smallest departments of education relative to student population, according a “Center for American Progress Report.” As a teacher who has worked on many PDE committees through the years, I have seen this first hand. Modern STEM standards like NGSS will not be able to be adopted, implemented and resourced if PDE lacks the capacity to handle the heavy lift of STEM standards. I urge Gov. Wolf and lawmakers to “invest” and adequately resource PDE to bring it up to the capacity it needs to be at to lead our schools in the STEM 21st century.

I applaud Gov. Wolf’s education agenda advocacy and progress. However, if we all see the value in STEM education, we need to modernize STEM education policy in our schools with relevant standards, assessments, and provide PDE the capacity it needs to help make Pennsylvania STEM Strong. It is an investment that will pay dividends for us all.

This guest column by Jeff Remington, a science educator and National STEM Teacher Ambassador at Palmyra Middle School in Palmyra, Pa.,  appeared in the Delaware County Daily Times (December 29, 2017)

Funding, Teacher Training Top Educators’ Wish List for Science Ed

This year may prove to be a pivotal time for science education in California, as schools enter the final stages of introducing the Next Generation Science Standards — the new K-12 science standards — and prepare for the first fully operational standardized tests in early 2019. We asked science educators and leaders what they’d like to see happen in 2018 in the world of science education.

Jill Grace, president of the California Science Teachers Association:

Here are a few things we’ve been simmering on as a state with respect to science and the Next Generation Science Standards:

First, we need dedicated support (and funding) to support high-quality professional learning for teachers to help support their growth, understanding and ability to implement the full vision NGSS. This would include moving forward with processes for districts to review and pilot instructional materials. In line with that, we need materials that meet this vision. For all of this to be successful, administrators need support and training to be able to help their teachers and move implementation forward.

Staff of the National Center for Science Education, a nonprofit that works to protect science education from ideological interference:

From Ann Reid, executive director:

I wish for all teachers to have access to the professional development they need to teach climate change confidently and accurately; our survey found that more than 67 percent of middle and high school science teachers want and would benefit from such professional development.

While I’m at it, I’d like science teachers to have the resources they need to provide state of the art inquiry-based learning, including laboratory equipment and supplies, data analysis tools, field trip expenses, and professional development, especially as they implement the Next Generation Science Standards.


Click here to read the full story in Ed Source (January 11, 2018)

New Science Standards a Boon for the Littlest Learners

Science education has long been a weak spot at some elementary schools, but educators are hoping California’s new science standards — if implemented well — will entice teachers to expand and improve science lessons for the youngest students.

According to a 2016 study by WestEd, SRI International and the Lawrence Hall of Science, more than half of kindergarten and 1st-grade teachers in California spend less than an hour per week on science. Science time increases as children reach 5thgrade, when they take their first standardized science tests, but overall, 40 percent of K-5 teachers devote an hour or less per week to science, the study found.

The reason, teachers told the study researchers, is that schools face increased pressure to meet standards for math and English language arts, which leaves little time for science. Teachers also said they have limited money to pay for science supplies. Only 8 percent of teachers said lack of student interest was a reason.

The new science standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards, focus on hands-on classroom projects and broad scientific concepts, and begin in kindergarten. Some elementary teachers say that once they learned the new standards, science became easy and more rewarding to teach, especially to younger children.

Click here to read the full story in Ed Source (January 21, 2018)