Science Education Reform Proposed for US Schools
In an effort to improve U.S. student competitiveness in science - not to mention to improve the quality of students' education in general - the National Research Council recently released a report that aims to transform the way K-12 students learn science. Currently in its early stages, the proposed new curriculum will focus on methodology over factual memorization.
We use the word 'literate' to describe one who knows how to read. We can extend that term to atypical situations. For instance, one versed in interpreting the carryings-on of our popular culture is said to be 'media literate.' How about 'scientifically literate?'
That's a term the National Research Council, in a partnership with non-profit group Achieve, Inc., wants to apply to our nation's K-12 students. Current science education, they argue, focuses far too much on minute memorization and pedantic fact-spouting; not nearly enough attention is paid to the processes behind the entire endeavor of science. In other words, students learn the vocabulary of science but not the grammar. They know big words, but not how to use them or put them together. That doesn't sound especially literate.
It's also not terribly interesting. This may be a controversial assertion, but the retention of facts means less and less every day. Most of us can head to Google - or better, pull out a smart phone - and look up anything we need to know instantaneously. But what do we do with that knowledge once we've attained it?
More Creative Than You Think
Science is all about the method. It's about taking knowledge that's already available and, through a rigorous process that's mostly grueling work but sometimes perhaps a bit of alchemy, coming up with something new on the other side. It's about discovery of the unknown, not reciting the known. Is this language overly flowery? Perhaps, but not moreso than the words actually contained within the National Research Council's report which, according to The New York Times, wants to 'ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science.'
So it is that the National Research Council and Achieve, Inc. will slowly begin rolling out their proposed curriculum changes, which must be accepted on a state-by-state basis. That's a process that's expected to take several years as specifics are developed and states are given their options. Among the alterations we can expect: a more cross-disciplinary approach that shows how all the core areas of science (life, Earth, space, etc.) are connected, as well as an integration of some engineering concepts into K-12 education.
When a similar effort to overhaul language arts and mathematics education was presented in the U.S., 44 states ended up adopting the new guidelines. Science education is an especially contentious topic at the moment - the concept of evolution in particular gets some folks' blood boiling - but Achieve's president says that when it comes to educational standards they're not pulling any punches.
For this writer in particular, grade school science class always felt like a chore. I didn't see how it applied to me, and was much more content in my English classes, where I could be creative. It took me to adulthood to figure out that science, properly applied, is just as creative and has incredible transformative power. Ideally, these new educational standards will share that knowledge with students across the nation.
Here are some podcasts to help you get in the scientific mindset.