13 November 2012


The flip side of yesterday's post, "Science and Play", is that as students playfully explore science, primary and high school teachers and schools are required to operate with certain well-formulated goals for learning.  Anna Kuchment writes in Scientific American that "Standards are the foundation upon which educators build curricula, write textbooks and train teachers ~ they often take the form of a list of facts and skills that students must master at each grade level.  Each state is free to form its own standards, and numerous studies have found that high standards are a first step on the road to high student achievement.  'A majority of the states' standards remain mediocre to awful', write the authors [ of a new report on state science standards across the United States].  Only one state, California, plus the District of Columbia, earned straight A's.  (Note ~ click on the map above to more clearly view the science standards grade earned by each state.)

" .... What exactly is going wrong?  The study's lead authors identified four main factors ~ an undermining of evolution, vague goals, not enough guidance for teachers on how to integrate the history of science and the concept of scientific inquiry into their lessons, and not enough math instruction.

" .... A bit of good news.  At least 26 states have signed on to an effort to write new, common 'Next Generation Science Standards' that will be more rigorous and specific than what many states currently have on the books.  To read more about that effort, visit nextgenscience.org or achieve.org, or read the document upon which the standards will be based here."

Given that the science standards of most states are rated "mediocre to awful", and given that students from those states with well-developed standards enjoy an advantage over others in gaining a decent university education and entering chosen careers, it makes sense to me that all schools in the nation should adhere to a national set of standards in all subjects, particularly in math and science.  I can hear legions of conservative thinkers howl in protest, arguing that we need local control over local education.  I submit that with the advent of the Internet, in a global economy and a global community, local education no longer exists.  For the sake of our children, and their children, we desperately need national standards which are competitive with those of the best schools around the globe.  Local control has failed miserably.

I'm not the only one who thinks so.  Check out this Animated Open Letter to President Obama on the State of Science Education.  (It addresses physics, but could equally apply to all the sciences.)  An exerpt ~ "The United States ~ a country with 5,000 nuclear weapons, home of the first atomic clock, and creator of the Global Positioning Sytem.  Chances are, if you just took regular American high school physics, you don't know one iota about the science behind these things .... That's because high school physics students across most of America are not required to learn about pretty much any physical phenomena discovered or explained more recently than 1865.  Yes, 1865.  That's the year the Civil War ended, and well over a decade before Albert Einstein was even born.  Do you know what can happen in 150 years?  A lot."

This 4 minute piece is typical of the brief, upbeat videos from MinutePhysics ~ witty, informative, and fun.  Science and play.  Sound familiar?

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