Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Week 10 Memo

In chapters 2 and 3 of A Framework for K-12 Science Education, the Committee on a Conceptual Framework established and explained a framework for new national standards in sciences.  At the core of their framework are three interwoven elements: scientific practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas, which together support meaningful learning and science literacy.  The Committee’s ultimate goal is to create a coherent, consistent approach to science education across all grades, to produce students with an appreciation for the beauty of science, the ability to engage in discussion and to think critically about the scientific information they encounter in their everyday lives, and the tools to continue to learn beyond the classroom.  Their approach focuses on children’s capacity to learn science and scaffolds standards to take advantage of maturing cognitive abilities, helping educators use the way their students understand the world and build on what they already know to achieve maximal success. 
            I find their comparison of novice understanding to expert understanding to be especially interesting in the light of our recent student interviews.  Where novices view knowledge as isolated and disconnected, experts are able to use the core principles to draw connections and make sense of new information.  In my interviews, I noticed more novice logic as my students struggled to combine what they knew to be true of an ecosystem with a given model when asked to incorporate a new element.  Its possible that teachers shy away from showing the interconnectedness of elements because many systems are extremely complex at first glance, but isolating elements without also showing how they function in a system will not help students ultimately understand the system- or even that one element- as well as they could have. 
            I think that their emphasis on scientific practice complements our ongoing discussion of modeling in that both knowledge and practice are essential to students understanding.  The practices the Committee suggests are almost precisely the modeling and argumentation cycles outlined in Lehrer and Sampson & Gleim.  Their goals also parallel our discussion of scientific literacy in that ultimately we want our students to be comfortable enough with science to be able to understand and discuss what is happening in the world (climate change etc) even if they don’t become scientists.

            I am, however, concerned with a few elements of their framework.  In their discussion of educational equity, they cite diversity as a “reason to have rigorous standards that apply to all students” (29), which seems counter-intuitive to me.  How can you hold a rural student with exponentially greater experience with plants and animals to the same strict standards as an urban student? Both could equally master an ecological theme if the standards more flexibly allowed teachers to play to their student’s experience.  I’d be interested to see which “core ideas” they champion, I’m all for depth over breadth but shouldn’t teachers have some autonomy over what they choose to delve into if it really is more about the process?  I guess that would make it difficult to build a system over the course of a child’s schooling, but is that element really necessary?  It seems over specific to me.  What if a student didn’t enjoy or identify with a certain system and then they had to learn about it every year?  Wouldn’t that get a little boring, or worse alienating?  I am also concerned that having such specific core ideas could remove subjects that excite teachers which would have a negative effect on both teacher and student motivation, as current psychology research shows students learn best when the teacher is excited about the subject material. 


  1. That's an interesting point you bring up about their discussion of equity. I think that, in practice, rigorous, universally applicable standards don't necessarily translate into strictly undifferentiated classroom practice. I would hope that there would be plenty of room for a discussion comparing how energy flows in a rural ecosystem with how energy flows in an urban one (not something I've ever thought of, but it's a thing, right?).

    Also, I've been thinking that the way in which they frame the practices would go a long way toward furthering the goal that you mention of enabling everyone, regardless of profession, to hold informed opinions and discussions about major scientific issues. I think that what may be lacking more than anything else in today's science education is a robust understanding of what science and engineering actually are and what places they occupy in society, academia, and government. I see that the practices in the Framework could go a long way toward giving students this sort of unified vision of science and engineering, which in turn might draw student thinking beyond novice-like isolated bodies of facts into an actual, expert-like appreciation of the organizing principles and ideas of both fields.

  2. Laura I really liked how you brought up the equity piece because it is a topic that we have not discussed yet that I think heavily influences the teaching practices put into play. I really did like how they gave an example of what students could each bring to the table but you brought up another good, yet concerning point. It does seem counter-intuitive to have specific standards and also champion diversity. I think they just meant that students can additionally provide diverse experiences and their own personal input inside the classroom, which can help foster greater understanding for everyone because they can drawn upon real life situations. You will still run into the issue that some students will not understand the examples or struggle with them but I think they just meant that diverse students can provide diverse experiences as further supports to help shed light on topics. This leads me to the question of what sciences schools will focus on and the core ideas associated with each. Will they depend on the location of the school? On the student body? How about vocational schools? Additionally, how will they determine which core ideas are most important? Isn’t it a matter of opinion?
    Furthermore, only four disciplinary science areas were looked. What about the other sciences, such as social, behavioral, and economic sciences? The framework mentioned the difference between sciences yet stresses the linkage between them, so how would you present this in a simple, cohesive way to the students? Finally, while the framework emphasized the continuity of learning the same systems throughout schooling, delving into a few core ideas and emphasizing practice over just learning facts, how will this prepare students for high stakes testing? Will they have all the necessary knowledge to do well? Will the small set of core ideas cover the material? If not, how would the high stakes testing need to change? The framework constantly stresses providing standards but they did not address the current ones.


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