Francis’s blog on all things science education

NSTA Executive Director Francis Eberle

NSTA Executive Director Francis Eberle

Welcome to my blog about issues and concerns to science educators and science education. At least once each month I will introduce a new topic that I hope will generate some discussion, and also respond to your ideas, comments, and suggestions.

I want to start with a new report that recently was released by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) titled Prepare and Inspire: K–12 Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) for America’s Future. PCAST advises President Obama on key policy issues, so one might think there would be more attention to what the report had to say about improving K–12 STEM education. Only one outlet (Education Week) covered the report in any depth. I urge you to take a look at this report. One question on my mind is whether we are reaching the Sputnik moment in this country with the PCAST report, or is this just another report in a long line of reports destined for the shelf. Do you think this report is destined to the dusty bookcase, or will/can it change anything about science education?

There are two important ideas in this report that I hope will rise above the current din of efforts to improve science education. The first idea is captured by the word Inspire in the report’s title. It refers to the nature of science as being a discipline that helps the human spirit and mind expand through discovery and imagining “what could be” and “why.”  I have to wonder, as science educators, have we lost our way from inspiring students about the potential science holds for creativity and discovery? Have we done this because of the push to prepare students for tests and to meet next year’s expectations, instead of helping students understand what science is capable of doing and how it helps us understand the world? Do you think we have lost the idea of wonderment in science?

The second idea that I think is of particular importance for science educators is the recommendation that states recognize and reward the top five percent of the nations STEM teachers by creating a STEM master teacher corps. We surveyed via NSTA Express and asked what you thought, and 64 percent of respondents agreed it was a good idea. Think of what a difference this would make in science education. If we use an estimate of 200,000 science educators, five percent would mean 10,000 experts, mentors, coaches, and resource people would be in schools and centers across the country supporting science education. They would be in represented in every congressional district (a political move in the report, but not a bad idea). I think this is an actionable recommendation. What do you think?

Rather than me going on about these ideas, let’s start a discussion—tell me what you think about the PCAST report and the three questions above.

—Francis

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8 Comments

  1. John Bennett
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    For sure teaching to the test is much more emphasized by administrators and imposed upon teachers than it should be. What seems very likely to me is that students learning effectively [not compatible with teaching to the test] will most always lead to better test scores as well as effective learning [retention and ease of application]. A national dialogue on effective learning will help – hopefully – to eliminate this senseless approach to learning.

    What is important is the increased intrinsic motivation on the part of teachers, learners, and family to participate in effective learning efforts. “Inspire” is consistent with the elements of an atmosphere improving intrinsic motivation of all as outline by Daniel Pink in his book, “Drive”: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. So yes, it’s great that this is included.

    The identification of the STEM master teacher corp is important to provide identified and accessable individuals that can be accessed to get questions or concerns addressed. Equally important is the increased possibility that these individuals will facilitate the dialogue among the broad community [administrators, teachers, learners, family, and interested general public] necessary for the identification, understanding, and adaption of good ideas more broadly throughout the educational efforts. What I would hope is not the only outcome of having this corp is the expectation that they will precribe the solutions to the broader community; evolving solutions based upon honest dialogue of ideas [including those from the corp] is the only way improvement will happen in significant ways.

    I look forward to finding the time necessary to consider the full 130-page report.

  2. Posted October 25, 2010 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    While I haven’t had time to read the full report, I too wonder if this will be just another of many reports – with no process steps toward action.

    As for a Master Corps of STEM teachers, really whose idea is that? Oh, I see that there were no K-12 science educators who participated in the workgroup, how can that be possible?

    What K-12 STEM education needs is more collaborators in the classroom in a well designed program that honors the expertise of the teacher and the expertise of the STEM collaborators, this is where we can INSPIRE student and teachers.

  3. alice lynch
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Hello,

    My name is Alice Lynch, and I am always interested in learning ways that science educators can improve. But my situation is different in terms of responding to the report because I teach science in a Global School in South Korea. I teach English science to middle school students and as you can imagine it’s a challenge. The vocabulary is very difficult for them to comprehend and the scientific concepts. Well I know that an effective teacher is very important in terms of helping to develop the students. Having an ability to recognize the best students and give them the extra challenge is very important to me.

  4. Posted October 26, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    I have experience as a secondary school teacher (trained in the Peace Corps) and have taught college biology and botany. The best way to teach science is through small groups and hands-on, building in the Socratic methods of inquiry.

    I have developed an internship program for college students to work on research projects in Great Lakes National Parks. This one-on-one trainiing including both National Park Service managers and university mentors has worked extremely well in training students in STEM subjects as well as providing needed information to better manage natural and cultural resources in our national parks.

    A similar program could be developed for high school students. However, with the decreased funding it will be necessary and desirable to form interagency partnerships to facilitate STEM education via the national parks.

  5. Paul M. Rutherford
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Until we begin to SERIOUSLY address how we train pre-service 7-12 teachers of science and mathematics, K-12 science and mathematics education will remain stagnant. ALL 7-12 pre-service science and mathematics students need to spend an entire semester in INDUSTRY and yes, in adddition to the tride-and-true stint as student teachers. I see this as critical towards their ability to provide RELEVANCE to their instruction. Consequently, we need to ratchet up the requirements for science teacher education. This will not be an easy nor overnight paradigm shift. This country’s future depends upon this.

  6. Linda
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    I have been requesting of my child’s principals and the School Advisory Council and the Superintendent and the School Board to review and update their science investment to our students and have advocated STEM while the educators where unsure of what the acronym meant.

    The bottom line from all of them is time and money, they don’t want to invest either outside of salaries and benefits to the instructors, support staff and administration. They spend lavisly on technology, BECAUSE that’s a highly visible item that the public see’s and the public is key to funding; what the public is unaware of is that technology is not utilized in the classroom at the majority level. Yes we have a STEM team which is qualified students, whose parents can pick them up after school and they have the financial assests to give to the project and yes they receive awards from national levels. BUT….that is a total of 200 students between the grade levels, we have 42,000 students. Why can they not have the same exposure and education as those in the STEM clubs?

    The answer- they truly do not understand the importance of education beyond the litarary arts. They have already accepted that they will fail 30% of the population by letting them drop out. Then they have over 30% who will fail to be on grade level but will continue to advance them out the door. They do not force the teachers to use best current practices of anything and if they don’t embrace technology so be it.

    A science teacher was attemting to get her students to turn in their homework digitally to her (comendable that she would have it graded at the next class if done and she could prompt and remind the students as well). She realized that a lot of them did not have the capability at home of any technology. I asked what did we do with the considered outdated computers at the school as we received new ones. I did a public records request which has never been honored. We don’t know where those computers went. Why would we not “loan” them to students that this teacher was willing to expand their skill set? But unfortunately that teacher is a rarity.

    So I am going to close that it is all good speak and touchy feely and that the unions will protect teachers from change and this report will just collect dust and matter.

  7. Eliseo Hernandez
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I did read most of the report. As an elementary school principal, I was encouraged by the recommendation to create STEM-themed schools at the elementary level. I think it is important to begin to inspire students at an early age. I also see the need to provide meaningful, job-embedded PD for teachers which will deepen their content knowledge at the elementary level.

  8. Craig Gabler
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    I read the report with eager anticipation that it would present a clear and compelling definition of what, as a nation, we mean by STEM. It did not seem to present an image of STEM different from writing the four letters separately. Without a clear vision for STEM, that is more than a call for more of what we are already doing, I am afraid the report is doomed become dust covered.

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