In Elementary School Science, What’s at Stake When We Call an ‘Argument’ an ‘Opinion’?

As more teachers are using both the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards, they will increasingly be confronted with a challenge: The standards in literacy and science—and the research literature in the two fields—disagree about when and how students learn to form arguments.

In a new article for Educational Researcher, Okhee Lee, a professor of education at New York University, suggests that standards writers and researchers need to consider the confusing and mostly unexamined situation teachers are in and figure out how to change it.

“The standards writers meant to help by making connections between science, ELA, and math, but the bodies of literature aren’t saying the same thing” about how students learn to form arguments, she said in an interview. “The foundational work hasn’t been done … Teachers, especially in K-5, must be very confused.”


Lee was clued into the discrepancy as she watched an experienced 2nd grade teacher demonstrate a lesson to a group of expert observers.

After a well-thought-out lesson on states of matter, the teacher’s sample writing assignment began with the following prompt: “Write your opinion on … .”

In Lee’s experience in teaching science, it seemed clear that a scientific writing assignment shouldn’t involve opinion, even in early elementary school. Opinions, she said, don’t require any evidence, and in a science class, students should be making arguments and backing them up with evidence. That’s the language used in the Next Generation Science Standards, which were in use in this teacher’s state.

But it turns out that the teacher’s writing assignment was perfectly in tune with the common core, which guides teachers to instruct their students in writing about opinions—but not arguments—in elementary school. In the common core’s standards for English/language arts, students aren’t asked to form arguments until middle school.

Lee writes that the two disciplines generally agree on the structure of argument. But, she writes, that “scholars across disciplines have yet to arrive at a common understanding of how ELA/literacy and science functionally interrelate with respect to argument.”

The NGSS specifically says that the standards should be interpreted so that they don’t misalign with or outpace the core. That leads to situations like the one Lee observed, where an elementary teacher asked students to write opinions, rather than arguments, about content in science class






Lee suggests that there may be a need for a forum or other research effort on the topic aimed at uncovering and resolving convergences and divergences in how educators think about argument, and for further research on how evidence-based argument can be promoted in elementary literacy and science classes. Her hope is that the standards can be seen as a “living document,” able to be updated when evidence from the field suggests that it’s necessary.





Click here to read the full story in Education Week (April 25 , 2017)



Alabama’s in the mainstream with a new way to teach science

(This is one of a series of stories about science in Alabama appearing each Wednesday on

Science teaching is changing across America, and Alabama is changing how it teaches science, too. But will the changes be enough or too much?

Dr. Bruce Alberts, a biochemist who headed the National Academy of Sciences and edited “Science” magazine, recently discussed the new way at Huntsville’s HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. Afterward, Dr. Neil Lamb, the institute’s vice president for educational outreach, talked about Alabama’s approach.

“We find ourselves at a place where there is a decreased emphasis on science (in schools and society),” Lamb said. “And there is often a perception that science is grounded in beliefs, hunches and personal viewpoints rather than in interpretation of facts. We are now facing the concept that if you don’t like the conclusions, you can dismiss the findings out of hand.”

 That’s misunderstanding what science is and how science works, Lamb said. But the problem is also related to how science is taught. Here’s how Alberts described it.
A new model, where students do most of the talking in class, is included in the Next Generation Science Standards devised by teachers nationwide. Alabama’s new science standards follow the model. They were approved by the State Board of Education in 2015 and went into effect with the 2016 school year.
Alabama’s committees working on implementation in science, mathematics and reading will report their findings in May, Lamb said. Then Alabama parents, lawmakers and employers can begin their own conversation about the way science education is heading.
Click here to read the full story on (April 26, 2017)

Science’s war of words reaches truce

AUSTIN — Conservatives are claiming victory in a state education board decision to streamline controversial evolution-related biology standards, and as it turns out, liberals seem equally pleased.

A left-leaning watchdog group, the Texas Freedom Network, in a statement said the streamlined standards would “… no longer include misleading requirements designed to undermine the teaching of evolution.”

Meanwhile, Texas Values, a conservative nonprofit organization headlined its statement on the same decision: “Victory! State Board of Education Preserves Strong Science Standards.”

Ronald Wetherington, a Southern Methodist University anthropology professor, who as part of an advisory committee helped negotiate the changes that board members adopted last week, said finding language the factions could agree on involved compromises.

But Glenn Branch, deputy director of the National Center for Science Education, said there was no compromise in the scientific or pedagogical approach.

“It was a win for Texas students,” Branch said of the vote, which came the day before crowds around the world marched to support science. “It is definitely a positive change.”

Click here to read the full story in Pauls Valley Democrat (April 26, 2017)

Idaho View: Why take Idaho’s legislators so seriously? We don’t

This appeared in the Lewiston Tribune:

Another national publication has taken Idaho’s Legislature seriously.

The fools.

This time, it’s the Weather Channel, which contends Idaho lawmakers stand alone among their colleagues in deep-sixing the teaching of human-caused climate change in the public schools.

Elsewhere, legislatures in six states—Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming—were less successful.

Only in Idaho will you find a freshman legislator, state Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell—a real estate broker, farmer and retired Army veteran—empowered by a state constitutional amendment that enables him and the House Education Committee to substitute their judgment for a panel of 19 scientists, science teachers and educators as well as the State Board of Education.

House Education Committee members dropped five sections about climate change from a temporary updating of the public school science standards last adopted in 2001 and updated in 2009. Nothing could dissuade them—not an informal forum on climate change that drew the largest audience of the legislative session nor their counterparts on the Senate Education Committee.

But here’s a little secret about the way Idaho handles these things:

Nobody much cares what the legislators say.

Virtually all of Idaho’s kids are going to learn where climate change comes from—and what to do about it.

And all those ideologically driven and uninformed lawmakers? What about them?

Ask a veteran educator and here’s what you’re likely to hear: “We’ll just teach around them.”

Click here to read the full story on (April 27, 2017)

Our Turn: The importance of teaching evidence-based science

The New Hampshire Science Teachers Association strongly supports the New Hampshire Board of Education’s decision in 2016 to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards as the New Hampshire College and Career Ready Science Standards and urges our policy makers to stay the course.

NHSTA teachers worked for years learning about, reviewing, suggesting changes and advancing instruction with the NGSS. After an exhaustive review process, most districts in our state were already witnessing how the NGSS minimum standards raise the bar for science education across the grade levels.

The newly adopted standards do not define curriculum, but aim toward rigorous science learning for all students. The NGSS science practices define explicit skills that are important to all scientific methods and disciplines. “The science practices encompass the habits and skills that scientists and engineers use (every day) . . . content and practices are intertwined in the standards… just as they are in today’s workplace” (NGSS Lead States, 2013). The NGSS were meticulously developed involving multiple stakeholders in science education across the United States. They included Nobel laureates, university scientists, teachers across grade levels, community members and policy makers. The adoption of NGSS as New Hampshire’s science standards strengthens our public education system.

The newly adopted New Hampshire science standards are broad but rigorous, internationally benchmarked and encourage local schools to further develop and strengthen their K-12 curricula. NHSTA, along with teachers across New Hampshire, believe these science standards will serve and challenge our students well into the future. They will also prepare our students to be scientifically informed citizens and tomorrow’s STEM professionals.

Click here to read the full story in the Concord Monitor (April 27, 2017)

NGSS Issues Lessons Learned

Start with a small cohort of teachers; provide professional learning opportunities to all teachers; include school leaders in the training. Those are some of the more obvious best practices tied to professional development for teachers learning how to teach to the Next Generation Science Standards, shared in a new guide published by NGSS.

But what about these practices? Running a “teaching learning collaborative” or lesson study, in which a group of teachers create a learning sequence, study an extant lesson and modify the lesson. Or the development of conceptual flows to lay out coverage of broad science concepts all the way down to creation of detailed storylines for units and lessons. These are two of the more popular best practices identified in the same guide.

Click here to read the full story in T.H.E. Journal (April 18, 2017)

New Science Standards Raise Hopes for Narrowing Achievement Gap

Kindergarten teacher Micaela Morse shows her students parts of a goldfish as part of the new science standards. Morse teaches at International Community School in Oakland.

As California rolls out new K-12 science standards, some educators believe the new curriculum will spark a love of science and boost test scores among African Americans and Latinos, and ultimately lead to a more diverse STEM workforce.

“I think there’s a great deal of optimism that the new standards will make a dent” in the achievement gap, said Kathy DiRanna, K-12 Alliance statewide director for WestEd, which is overseeing the early implementation of the new standards in eight California school districts and two charter organizations. “That’s because it’s hands-on, helps build language skills, includes reading and writing. This is really a way to get science to all kids.”

The new standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards, include a 21-page appendix that offers guidelines for teachers on how to reach students who are English learners, economically disadvantaged, racial or ethnic minorities, who have disabilities or are otherwise in demographic groups that are underrepresented in the science fields.

Click here to read the full story in Ed Source (April 13, 2017)

Idaho Ed Leaders Hear Comments on Science Standards

Six proposed education rules are up for debate, but one is causing the biggest stir: what student will learn about science.

On April 11 in Twin Falls, the Idaho Department of Education held the first in a series of six public meetings across the Gem State to gather feedback from educators, parents and community members.

Proposed changes to science standards drew controversy and debate during the legislative session — particularly, about climate change.

The Idaho legislature approved a concurrent resolution this spring to adopt new temporary science standards for kindergarten through 12th grades. But it decided to remove five paragraphs, which include references to climate change caused by human behavior.

Public comments will be accepted through April 26. Formal recommendations will come before the Idaho Board of Education in August.

Revised standards will become a pending rule in the fall. A second public comment period will be held and state legislators will review permanent science standards in 2018.


Click here to read the full story in the Atchison Globe Now (April 12, 2-17)

NH State Board and Ed Commissioner Clash on Science Standards

When New Hampshire Education Commissioner Frank Edelblut was appointed to his post in January, the Republican politician assured critics that whatever his personal beliefs, he would consider himself “the implementation guy” for an agenda largely dictated by others.

At a recent State Board of Education meeting, the new commissioner was sharply reminded of his circumscribed role when the State Board of Education unanimously rejected his proposal to reconsider the state’s science standards.

Just last year, the board adopted the Next Generation Science Standards as the state’s model curriculum after a two-year review process. Many local districts – which aren’t bound by the state’s standards – had already adopted the NGSS, as have nearly 20 other states.

Citing a rating by the Fordham Institute, Edelblut wanted the standards reviewed again.

But board members forcefully pushed back, saying that the state had spent two years painstakingly reviewing standards they had only just adopted, and that initiating a new review would confuse teachers and administrators on the ground.

Bill Duncan, another board member, said the board had looked at Fordham’s critique when mulling the standards but they weren’t convinced.

“Fordham’s view of the standards is from 1950 science teaching. This is not the criterion for New Hampshire,” he said.

The board ultimately voted unanimously not to review science standards until 2022.

Click here to read the full story in the Concord Monitor (April 8, 2017)

Climate Change Deletion Finalized in Idaho

The Idaho House of Representatives voted 56-9 to adopt Senate Concurrent Resolution 121 on March 24, 2017, thus finalizing the legislature’s decision to delete five standards — those discussing climate change and human impact on the environment — from a proposed new set of state science standards for Idaho.

As NCSE previously reported, the House Education Committee originally voted in February 2017 to remove the five standards, on the grounds that they failed to present “both sides of the debate.” Despite overwhelming testimony from the public in favor of retaining the standards, the Senate Education Committee followed suit later in the same month.

Click here to read the full story on the National Center for Science Education website (March 27, 2017)