Science Curriculums

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cause for concern

Stephen Sawchuk writes on February 28, 2019 in Education Week:

The first independent review to weigh whether new science curriculum series are truly aligned to a set of national standards was issued this morning—and mostly, the materials fell well short of expectations. 

Four of the series—Discovery’s Science Techbook, Carolina Biological Supply Company’s Science and Technology Concepts, and two versions of Teachers’ Curriculum Institute’s Bring Science Alive!—were deemed insufficiently aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards. One series, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Science Dimensions, was considered partially aligned. Only one series, Amplify’s Amplify Science, got top marks for alignment, coherence, and usability, according to the nonprofit EdReports, which conducted the reviews.

This is serious cause for concern at a time when we so desperately need schools to provide top-notch science education to our students. Publishers of curriculum ought to create materials that support the rigorous Next Generation Science Standards, which require students to use scientific and engineering practices and therefore prepare them to compete in the global marketplace of the 21st century–yet they fall short on many counts, as illustrated in the following infographic.

One approach to working with such curricula is team teaching that focuses on integrated STEM education, which combines science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into one “class” or pathway for teaching and learning that is based on connections between those subjects and real-world problems. Further, English Language Arts, social studies, and other subjects can and should be integrated into these learning pathways. It becomes a new way to conduct learning, yet most schools are not set up for this. Current schools still compartmentalize learning, making one subject disconnected from another.

This reminds me of the medical industry and its culture of compartmentalizing the body into disconnected parts that are treated in isolation from the whole body. At one time, medicine in the United States focused on the whole patient–back in the day of homeopathic doctors. This came to an end around the time that the American Medical Association formed in 1847. Slowly, homeopathic doctors got pushed to the side and new thinking blossomed in which doctors treated a stomach ache with one thing, a headache with another, and so on. They forgot about the harmony between all parts. They became specialists focused on one part of the whole–just like teachers today who know about science or math or language but don’t have experience or training integrating their specialty with other areas of learning.

Specialized teaching and learning in America began during the industrial revolution. This short YouTube video says it well:

Clearly, we don’t need this model any longer. We need a holistic approach to education that teaches children to think critically and allows them opportunities to make meaning of their learning through authentic problems and projects. That is to say, what we need is integrated STEM. The EdWeek article points out that the biggest problem with the curriculums it studied is that they do not consistently include crosscutting concepts and disciplinary content. They are not using an integrated approach.

If teachers are aware of the shortcomings of the standard curriculums they are told to use and are also versed in methods for teaching integrated STEM, a teamwork approach can provide what is needed to make learning a truly authentic, 21st century experience for students. Yet won’t this put a huge burden on teachers today? They must recreate themselves as teachers and often appeal to administration to allow them to go off the pacing guides, veer from standard curricular practices, and be innovative!

When light gets shed on inadequacies from curriculum providers, difficulties faced by teachers, and everything in between, it stirs up the desire for change. Even though the EdWeek article was met with denial, shining light on such shortfalls is a good start toward reform.

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