Saturday, September 23, 2006

Science goes "back to basics" too?

Apparently not wanting to be left out in the cold on the whole "back to basics" pendulum swing, a group from the US science community came out on Thursday proposing a curriculum shift for elementary students that would focus on fewer topics, but with more depth and connections.

In "Report Calls for Improvement in K-8 Science Education," Washington Post's Valerie Strauss explores recommendations issued by the National Research Council (NRC), which is a part of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. According to the report:
"We are underestimating what young children are capable of as students of science -- the bar is almost always set too low," the report said. "Moreover, the current organization of science curriculum and instruction does not provide the kind of support for science learning that results in deep understanding of scientific ideas and an ability to engage in the practices of science."
So what does the NRC recommend? Strauss explains,
  • "To provide a more comprehensive science education, the committee on science education said that educators should concentrate on core concepts central to the understanding of science rather than the many strands that now exist in school systems around the country." (emphasis added)
  • Link science concepts from grade to grade.
  • Provide teachers with better training, and incorporate new findings on how students learn into the curriculum, "including the notion that children starting school are much more sophisticated, analytical thinkers than has been assumed in the past."
"There are too many ideas in the [science] standards. That just throws a monkey wrench in the system. If we have some core ideas, we can really invest in the system," says Gerald F. Wheeler, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

However, the NRC cautions against focusing exclusively on content, while ignoring the teaching methods that deliver the content. "Teaching content alone is not likely to lead to proficiency in science, nor is engaging in inquiry experiences devoid of science content," the report said. (Think back to E.D. Hirsch and Diane Ravitch's thinking on the importance of content in the curriculum. It's like Marvin Gaye once said: "It takes two, baby")

Does this sound familiar? If you've been following what's happening in education's math-o-sphere right now, it should. (Now we just have to wait and see if the social studies and language arts/English worlds follow suit!)

It will be interesting to look at JIS' science curriculum when it goes online in January. We've got an abundance of science-minded experts in our JIS community -- hopefully the school will reach out to them as resources in its effort to fine-tune the science curriculum.

To read the NRC's full report, "Taking Science to School: Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8," click here.

UPDATE: If you'd like to see Reuters' take on the report, please click here (via


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