Archive for August, 2013

NYT: New Guidelines Call for Broad Changes in Science Education

Friday, August 30th, 2013

The main headline that caught my attention is “New Guidelines Call for Broad Changes in Science Education” written by Justin Giilis and published on the NYT web site on April 9, 2013 ( The article is interesting enough but I also drilled down to “What Do You Think of the New Next Generation Science Standards?” by Jennifer Cutraro and Katherine Schulten published on the same day also on the NYT web site.

It is interesting news because it marks a collection of ideas on how to change education. I can see how the recommendations are aimed at creating improvement, and I particularly appreciate the addition of hands-on learning experiences. From my perspective, it might actually be an attempt to restore some of the ideals of science education from the 1970s and earlier – when science had entertainment value (eg, bunsen burners or small chunks of sodium thrown in water). However, from these reports I have read, it appears that there is substantial sidetracking and these changes will not make US science education any more competitive or attractive to future scholars. While some skill enhancement is incorporated, most of the proposed changes appear to be tweaks in the knowledge compartment.

Specific thoughts:

– Getting away from memorization. Yes, memorization should not be all students are trained to do. However, the classic skill of memorization is still necessary to train cognitive reasoning especially for the purpose of communication. Therefore, let’s be mindful of how much memorization is de-emphasized so that divergent creative thinking can be developed and we can nurture their passion for discovery. The problem actually is that memorization is what is necessary to prepare for standardized tests, and creative thinking isn’t critically tested. So let’s consider how to develop a complementary testing method for the creative skill (many universities do this already but it’s as far from standardized testing as you can get). In addition, a reduction of memorization will likely lower US competitiveness in international comparisons (not necessarily something to be fixated on).

– Implementation. How will the education system adopt these changes? At the user interface level, teachers will have to learn, develop and/or follow new methods to teach, assess and evaluate. Those farther below this interface level will have to adapt and support this new architecture – are they prepared to do so? More importantly, how will students react? We have already seen the pendulum action as a result of shifts in reading and language education – and we may very well see the same in shifts in science education. Is there any reason to believe students will shift from passive to active learners when it comes to science? What will happen to the lower two quartiles of learners? Will hands-on learning help them or hurt them? I like taking lessons from successes where classes can be formatted to suit learning styles.

– Content. The two NYT articles mention “Climate Change” as a controversial sticking point when it comes to including it as a curriculum topic. It’s probably political correctness that is driving this. I really don’t see the educational value in this. Energy should be focused on making science more interesting. As with the YCISL workshops, I promote a broad platform of sustainability to facilitate creative and innovative thinking. Sustainability is a universal theme that everyone can adopt and understand from a variety of standpoints – from sustainable finance to sustainable health to sustainable happiness to sustainable progress. In the end, making any positive aspect of life sustainable is a worthwhile exercise.