Friday, May 22, 2015

Proposed science and technology standards for students

This is a link to a 54-page PDF-format document called "Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Standards" on the official website for the State of Massachusetts, Department of Education.

The first page is the title page.  The next page is the Table of Contents.  After that is a four page introduction to the proposed standards, labelled pages 2-5.  The science standards for pre-kindergarten begin on page 6.

Something important is missing

This is what I disagree with

For the sake of context, this is one complete paragraph of the introduction to the proposed standards, under the headline "The need to integrate science and engineering practices with concepts".  The link in this paragraph was included on the page.
A college and career perspective emphasizes the importance of scientific and technical reasoning for students’post-secondary success.  The skills needed to engage in scientific and technical reasoning are embodied in the science and engineering practices (detailed in a separate “matrix” document,  Integrating these practices with disciplinary core ideas is critical to students’ ability to apply their understanding to their community and professional work.  Students cannot reason without content but content alone is not what defines a successful student in science and technology/engineering.  Integration of concepts and practices results in better understanding of science and engineering, increased mastery of sophisticated subject matter, a better ability to explain the world, and increased interest in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) fields.  A student’s ability to engage in scientific and technical reasoning through relevant experience is key to successful engagement in civic, college, or career contexts.

Also for the sake of context, this sentence is also included under the headline "Key features of the Science and Technology/Engineering Standards."
To support student readiness for citizenship, college, and careers, the Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) standards are intended to drive coherent, rigorous instruction that emphasizes student mastery of both disciplinary core ideas (concepts) and application of engineering practices (skills).

This is why I disagree with this proposed standard

A person that asks an employer to allow him to work in any field of science must be able to do more than simply show a "mastery of both disciplinary core ideas (concepts) and application of engineering practices (skills)."  This person would only be qualified to be a technician, not a scientist.

A technician can apply existing scientific concepts to the needs of a job, but he may not be able to investigate and prove or disprove any new ideas.  A true scientist has the advanced education to design and implement experiments that will, in fact, prove or disprove any new ideas that are within his field of expertise.

This defines the difference between a scientist and a technician.

The missing and necessary ingredient

What is missing from these proposed science standards is any mention of the scientific method.

Centuries ago, most of the people who called themselves scientists believed that all the other planets revolved around the Earth.  They had been taught this concept as students from their own teachers, and they taught this false concept to their own students.  Any student who learned this false concept well enough to discuss it intelligently would be falsely classified as a scientist under the proposed standards in this 2015 document.

The idea that all the planets revolve around the Earth is a false idea.  The truth is that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the Sun, but this truth was proven by a true scientist.  The people who passed along the false idea were nothing more than astronomical technicians.

The following paragraph was copied from his page on the Biography Channel.
Nicolaus Copernicus was born on February 19, 1473 in Torun, Poland.  Circa 1508, Copernicus developed his own celestial model of a heliocentric planetary system.  Around 1514, he shared his findings in the Commentariolus.  His second book on the topic, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, was banned by the Roman Catholic Church not long after his May 24, 1543 death in Frauenburg, Poland.

The State of Massachusetts must not allow its' students to call themselves scientists until they are thoroughly familiar with the scientific method, outlined here.

I applied the scientific method one day when I was a teenager.  At the time, I questioned whether God was alive, but I designed an experiment to determine the truth.

I made a hypothesis was that he was alive.  I then tested it by saying a prayer at a time and a place when no other person could hear me.  My prayer asked God to show me that he did, in fact, exist.

Less than a week later, I found a $5 bill in my wallet on a day that I was certain that there was no money in it.

I accepted this as the proof of my hypothesis, and I believe in the existence of God now.

Many children who study various sciences in other countries have a better education in those countries than our own children.  Our educational institutions cannot say that they teach science if they do not teach the scientific method.

If United States schools and Massachusetts schools do not teach the scientific method, we will produce people who will be vulnerable to repeating unscientific lies like the statement that the Sun and the other planets revolve around the Earth.

This is one complete paragraph of the proposed standards.
In particular, it is important to note that the science and engineering practices are not teaching strategies; they are important learning goals in their own right.  The term “practices” is used in the standards instead the term“inquiry” to emphasize that the practices are outcomes to be learned, not the method of instruction.  The term “inquiry” has so often been used to refer to an instructional approach as well as the skills to be learned that many educators do not separate the two uses.  Students cannot comprehend the disciplines of science and technology/engineering, nor fully appreciate the nature of scientific and technical knowledge, without learning and using the science and engineering practices.  The term “practices” denotes the skills to be learned as a result of instruction, whether that instruction is inquiry-based or not.

Up until the 16th century, it was expected that students would learn that the Sun and all of the other known planets revolved around the earth.

In the 21st century, we know that they don't, but it required the skills of a 16th century astronomer named Nicolaus Copernicus to prove it.

This proposed standard for Massachusetts schools emphasizes "learning and using the science and engineering practices."

It is inadequate.

Students cannot call themselves scientists until they can use the scientific method to make new discoveries in their field of science.

November 29, 2015 update

These are the first four paragraphs of a November 21, 2015 New York Times story:
It has been one of the most stubborn problems in education:  With 50 states, 50 standards and 50 tests, how could anyone really know what American students were learning, or how well?

At a dinner with colleagues in 2009, Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts’s commissioner of education, hatched what seemed like an obvious answer — a national test based on the Common Core standards that almost every state had recently adopted.

Now Dr. Chester finds himself in the awkward position of walking away from the very test he helped create.

On his recommendation, the State Board of Education decided last week that Massachusetts would go it alone and abandon the multistate test in favor of one to be developed for just this state.  The move will cost an extra year and unknown millions of dollars.

Links to other stories about the same subject (listed in chronological order)

This October 22, 2015 Boston Globe article was written prior to the November vote by the Massachusetts Board of Education.  The article was written by a former senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, who is opposed to Common Core.

National Public Radio, November 17, 2015

Public Broadcasting Stations, November 23, 2015


The last words in this essay belong to Nicolaus.

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