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)

 

 

 

Wisconsin Adopts K-12 Science Standards

In November, Wisconsin  adopted new K–12 science education standards. Click here to read a Q&A on the standards by Kevin Anderson, Science Education Consultant for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

 

 

Op-ed: Let Science Educators Build New Science Standards for Utah

As Utah begins the process of revising the state science standards for elementary and high school, it’s a good idea to take a moment to ask why we teach science to K–12 students at all?

Science, engineering and the resulting technologies are interwoven into our lives and will be integral in meeting humanity’s most pressing future challenges. National data illustrate the need for highly skilled workers with strong backgrounds in these fields and the need is steadily increasing.

Finally, the Utah Science Teachers Association believes that all citizens should have a scientifically based understanding of the natural world in order to engage meaningfully in public discussions, be informed voters and discerning consumers.

Problems arise when nonscience ideals impede the teaching and learning of science, either through the use of pseudoscience or the avoidance of topics because they are politically charged. This unfortunately occurred, to no avail, during the process of developing the sixth-eighth grade SEEd standards with regard to evolution and climate change, in particular.

Click here to read the Op Ed by John R. Taylor, president of the Utah Science Teachers Association in the Deseret News (December 16, 2017)

How One California School District is Leading the Way on New Science Standards

As schools nationwide take on the most comprehensive overhaul of science standards in 20 years, a school district in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles has become a pace-setter.  Without relying on outside funding, or major grant money, Torrance Unified has trained more than 500 teachers and has unveiled the new standards to all 24,000 students in the district.

By devoting thousands of hours to teacher training, the district has shown teachers from kindergarten through 12th grade how to explain scientific phenomenon in a new way to their students — by letting the students discover the answers on their own, instead of memorizing facts from a textbook.

“We feel science is the center of a good education, so this has been a priority for us from the beginning. But there are fundamental things we’ve done that all districts can do,” said Amy Argento, one of three classroom science teachers the district assigned to train their colleagues. “What we’ve done is replicable anywhere. Any district can do this.”

 

The new standards, called Next Generation Science Standards, were introduced nationally in 2013, in response to concerns among science educators, political leaders and many others that K-12 science instruction in the United States trails behind many other industrialized countries.

So far, 19 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the standards, California was among the first. Stressing hands-on projects and critical thinking, the new standards represent a significant shift for most teachers — not just a change in subject matter, but to a new way of teaching, with less emphasis on textbooks and classroom lectures and more on open-ended scientific inquiry.

Click here to read the full story in Ed Source (December 10, 2017)

 

 

North Dakota Teachers to Rewrite Academic Standards

The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction is soliciting help from educators across the state in rewriting standards for science, health, the arts and early learning.

The new standards will affect grades K-12, as well as pre-K for early learning guidelines. These instructional standards haven’t been reviewed in several years, including health standards that are nearly a decade old. Earlier this year, DPI approved new math and English standards.

The process for rewriting content standards for science, health, the arts and early learning will begin early next year and will continue through the fall, according to a news release from DPI.

Four content committees will begin rewriting the standards early next year. Independent citizens committees will then review and comment on the proposed standards. There will be public comment periods after each draft of the new standards is completed.

There is no definitive date for when the standards will go into effect.

Science, health, the arts and early learning educators can apply for positions on the committees at www.nd.gov/dpi/SchoolStaff/Standards.

Members of the content committees will be paid $225 per day, plus lodging and meals. School districts and early learning programs are eligible for substitute teacher pay. Applications are due by 3 p.m. Dec. 12.

Bismarck Tribune, Nov. 27, 2017

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.co

Barlow STEM chairman promotes new science curriculum

Next Generation Science Standards is the new science curriculum being taught at Joel Barlow High School (Easton, CT).

NGSS is a multi-state effort to create new education standards that are challenging to students.

With NGSS, the students, rather than the teachers, are the ones who are actively discovering.

At the Region 9 Board of Education meeting on Nov. 16, J.T. Schemm, STEM department chairman, presented the advantages of NGSS.

“In the classroom, we are looking for students to be the discoverers for the first time,” he said. “Good teachers don’t tell you what you are going to see, the students tell them what they will see.”

According to Board of Education Chairman Melinda Irwin, a major component of NGSS is three-dimensional learning, “which shifts the focus of the science classroom to environments where students use disciplinary core ideas, crosscutting concepts with the scientific practices to explore, examine and explain how and why phenomena occur and to design solutions to problems,” she said.

Science classes in Region 9 are becoming more hands-on, as teachers strive to prepare students for the science, technology, engineering and mathematics needed for jobs in the future.

“There really is a big push for STEM education across the board, because the jobs of tomorrow and today require a really solid foundation,” Schemm said.

He explained that NGSS is a way of looking at science differently from how teachers and school administrators of past decades viewed science.

“Learning science by doing science is the big issue here,” Schemm said. “It’s asking students, What do you know? What do you observe?”

Click here to read the full story in the Easton Courier (November 23, 2017)

Bringing Science to Life

Ramirez Thomas Elementary School teacher Rita Rios-Baca’s first-graders let her know in one collective shout what they thought of her plan to use bubbles to study wind patterns as part of a Los Alamos National Foundation project that brings science into public school classrooms.

“Hooray!” they screamed in unison as they readied their science kits and notebooks under the watchful eye of Rios-Baca and school Principal Loretta Booker.

Within minutes, they were outside the south-side school, blowing bubbles and observing the way they moved with the wind — sometimes north, sometimes south and sometimes right into their own faces.

 They were playing science detectives, in a sense: talking in groups about what they had witnessed and making notes plotting out the trajectory of the bubbles and how that correlated to the way the grass, bushes and tree limbs moved in response to the wind.

It was part of an effort to provide a hands-on approach to learning that makes them excited about a topic that a lot of students may see as boring or too technical or challenging.

“For me it brings science to life,” said Booker, who used the foundation science kits as a kindergarten teacher at Salazar Elementary School a few years ago.

The foundation is celebrating its 20th year supporting public schools with science curriculum and kits at the K-6 level through an $80 million endowment. Each grade level at each school gets two kits — one revolving around physical science and one involving earth science. The foundation gives teachers four days of professional development every summer on the program, paying the teachers for their time. It also offers ongoing classes during the school year on Friday afternoons.

Click here to read the full story in the Santa Fe New Mexican (November 26, 2017)

Fizz! Pop! Bang! Teachers find new science standards fun, but costly

 

With their emphasis on hands-on experiments, California’s new science standards have turned classrooms into noisy, messy laboratories.

That’s been popular with students and teachers who say it’s a more effective way to learn science than studying textbooks and memorizing facts, but the cost of all those underwater robots and exploding chemicals has left some teachers wondering how they can successfully implement the standards with ever-restricting budgets.

“I love the new standards, I really do. But it’s so expensive, I just don’t see how it’s going to happen,” said Laura Ruiz, a science teacher at Hollenbeck Middle School in Los Angeles Unified. “All of us teachers are spending hundreds of dollars a year of our own money to purchase supplies. Is there a cheap way to teach these standards? I’m trying to find one, but I just don’t think so.”

The new K-12 standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards, were approved by the California State Board of Education in 2013 and are gradually rolling out in districts across the state. All schools are expected to have fully implemented the new standards by spring 2019, when the state gives its first official assessments.

Hundreds of schools have already switched to the new standards, which are intended to give students a deeper understanding of scientific concepts by conducting as many as three or four science experiments a week.

But even the simplest science experiments cost money. Vinegar and baking soda for 150 middle-schoolers to make their own volcanoes costs at least $50. For a lesson on thermal energy, calcium chloride, ammonium nitrate and plastic baggies for 150 students to make their own hand-warmers can cost at least $65.

Click here to read the full story in Ed Source (November 26, 2017)