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Eighth-grade honors students work on a physics experiment to determine the acceleration of marbles. The district is focusing on improving science literacy, through professional development.

Two-thirds of California’s elementary school teachers feel unprepared to teach science, according to High Hopes—Few Opportunities, a study of science teaching and learning that was conducted recently by the University of California at Berkeley. On the state science test administered to fifth-graders last year, only 55 percent achieved or exceeded proficiency in the subject. On the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress, California ranked near the bottom in fourth-grade science scores.

By the fall of 2012, the Next Generation of Science Standards will be available for states to adopt. Part 1 of the process, the Framework for K12 Science Education, was released July 19 by the National Research Council (NRC), an arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Traditionally, states have developed their own individual standards by extracting components from science benchmarks set forth by organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Girl doing chemistry exercise

Three years ago, sophomore environmental science students at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia needed a problem to solve. But they weren't just looking for any old problem; they wanted a big one, a real-life one that could make a difference in the world—one that would challenge them to be creative, to work in teams, to think and plan and build, and, by the way, to allow them to meet all of the state and local standards for the class.

Ask any random college educated American adult to recall the processes of cell respiration so painstakingly memorized in freshman biology, or to rehearse the dates of the Progressive Era that had been absorbed as part of the standard American history survey course, and you're likely to receive a blank stare, proving something that cognitive scientists have been shouting from the rooftops: Coursework focused on memorization of a broad body of content knowledge will not produce the sort of learning that lasts.

While most schools are under increasing pressure to improve the STEM education of their students, finding more effective—and cost-effective—ways to teach science concepts can be a challenging task. But as with many dilemmas in education, the right technology, when properly implemented, can be a big part of a successful strategy.

STEM—the catchy shorthand for "science, technology, engineering and mathematics"—has been part of the school improvement discussion for more than a decade, as educational leaders and policy makers have underscored the importance of these areas in preparing students for an internationally competitive, 21st-century economy.

PROBLEM

Maryland’s high school assessment (HSA) exams indicated that students in Prince George’s County Public Schools learning STEM subjects were not as prepared for graduation as their statewide counterparts. Just sixty-five percent of first-time takers passed the state’s Biology HSA, indicating a disconnect between the content and the skills and processes portions of the exam. Secondary science instructional specialist Godfrey Rangasammy felt that students were having a difficult time making interdisciplinary connections and interpreting science data they were learning.

All the rhetoric urging the U.S. education system to up the ante to remain competitive in a global economy came to a sobering point with the release of the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results on Dec. 7, 2010. In 2009, the United States, along with 65 other countries, joined PISA to assess the performance of 15-year-old students in reading, mathematics and science. The United States remained just average in reading and science, while lagging a bit in mathematics on the global scale.

 

Dear Educator:

I invite you to participate in the upcoming Disney's Planet Challenge, a hands-on, environmental learning experience for grades 3-8.

 

Disney’s Planet Challenge began in California in 1994 and has since expanded to Florida, the Cayman Islands and Hong Kong. This year, the program will be launched nationwide. Here are examples of winning projects from past years.

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