US students need new way of learning science

Apr 05, 2012

American students need a dramatically new approach to improve how they learn science, says a noted group of scientists and educators led by Michigan State University professor William Schmidt.

After six years of work, the group has proposed a solution. The 8+1 Science concept calls for a radical overhaul in K-12 schools that moves away from memorizing scientific facts and focuses on helping understand eight fundamental science concepts. The "plus one" is the importance of inquiry, the practice of asking why things happen around us – and a fundamental part of science.

"Now is the time to rethink how we teach science," said Schmidt, University Distinguished Professor of statistics and education. "What we are proposing through 8+1 Science is a new way of thinking about and teaching science, not a new set of . It supports basic concepts included in most sets of state standards currently in use and compliments standards-based education reform efforts."

The renowned group of has met with Schmidt in an effort to rethink how science should be taught since 2006, when it was originally part of the PROM/SE research project (Promoting Rigorous Outcomes in Mathematics and Science Education) funded by the National Science Foundation.

The 8+1 concepts were derived from two basic questions: What are things made of and how do systems interact and change? The eight concepts are: atoms, cells, radiation, systems change, forces, energy, conservation of mass and energy, and variation.

Traditionally, science in the United States has been taught in isolated disciplines such as chemistry, biology and physics without clear connections being made between the subjects. The 8+1 effort encourages K-12 teachers to use the eight science concepts to build understanding within and between their courses as students advance through the grades.

"The natural world seems to operate through these laws and concepts, but when it comes to schooling we don't teach children these laws and then show how these apply in different situations," Schmidt said.

Simon Billinge, an 8+1 committee member and professor of applied physics and mathematics at Columbia University, said the aim is for students to see, for example, the physics within biology and the chemistry within physics, so they can gain an understanding of science that transcends disciplinary lines.

Today's frontiers in science often occur at these disciplinary edges. Aided by the explosion in technology and scientific discoveries, new fields are arising that were hardly imagined a generation ago such as synthetic biology, digital organisms and genomics.

Most states are participating in a process to develop new K-12 science standards that are more relevant, coherent and based on international benchmarks.

Stephen Pruitt, vice president of Achieve, a nonprofit organization managing the state-led effort, said 8+1 Science can work hand-in-hand with his organization's effort – called Next Generation Science Standards – "to change the way we think about science education."

"The emphasis is about helping students learn key concepts in science, rather than just facts," Pruitt said.

Results from the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress show only 34 percent of fourth-graders and 30 percent of 12th-graders were proficient in their science knowledge. Internationally, U.S. students ranked a mediocre 25th in their science knowledge among countries studied by the Program for International Student Assessment.

Explore further: Poverty rate drops for the first time since 2006

More information: www.8plus1science.org/

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User comments : 42

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HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
I think that these guys are onto something here. Now, add in concept mapping and force concept inventory testing, and permit students to learn at their own pace, by building a massive knowledge map (consisting of thousands of concept maps) of the materials.

Not only can we eliminate textbooks in this manner, reducing the cost of education, but we can closely track the student's precise comprehension in terms of coverage of the knowledge map. And the nodes of the concept maps can be videos which the students themselves can make and rate.
tadchem
5 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2012
I would like to see the basics of the Scientific Method taught in primary schools. It is the most effective tool in history, exceeding even religion and philosophy, for developing understanding of how the world around us works, and how we interface with it.
Unfortunately most primary teachers have no background in the *doing* of science - i.e. no lab courses on their transcripts.
Squirrel
3 / 5 (4) Apr 05, 2012
Odd how when a group of scientists meet to work out the best way to teach science, their professional skills go out the window. What about some research? Assign schools to different science teaching methods and see the results. That is how scientists evaluate new drugs, why not how science is taught?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
That is how scientists evaluate new drugs

Erm...No?
TakeTheBang
not rated yet Apr 05, 2012
Being a student tutor I can tell you teaching science is not an easy task, especially biology. There are 13 parts to a single cell. That's 13 words you need to know, plus the individual function of each part, so you could be memorizing 30 things for 1/10 of what biology is. It's very easy to be put off by having to hammer words into your head and you've learned nothing about the subject.

Methods I use very from student to student, some are interested in science and they pick it up quickly because they want to learn more. One the other hand you have the student who doesn't want to try, I tend to give up on them, no point in wasting time on someone who doesn't want to learn.

Science is a subject that you love or hate. If this project can get more people interested in Science, I'm all for it, but the majority of kids don't want to learn.
DrMemory
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
Now if only we could get schools to separate out Arithmetic from Mathematics and teach Mathematics in primary grades as pattern matching, pattern manipulation, logic and basic geometry.
Tennex
1 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
Learning the science in the AWT way would be cool. This inertial particle model fits surprisingly wide range of physical, biological and social systems and phenomena. It's bottom to top approach.
BIG COCK
5 / 5 (3) Apr 05, 2012
Learning the science in the AWT way would be cool. This inertial particle model fits surprisingly wide range of physical, biological and social systems and phenomena. It's bottom to top approach.


I believe there exist regulations in education that prevent the teaching of utter rubbish. As a result, I don't think teaching AWT would be feasible.
axemaster
5 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2012
Why not just import teachers from high-ranking countries and have them train our teachers and school administrators? Seems a lot more direct than testing out theories of unknown efficacy.

Also, I think that the real problem is that calculus and other higher math are taught too late. Calculus should be taught in the sophomore year of high school at the latest. It's hard to understand science without a calculus underpinning.
saijanai
1 / 5 (2) Apr 05, 2012
The solution for all of the US educational problems is quite simple: sponsor the creation of world-class educational cartoons. The best example of this is the Japanese anime, Hikaru no Go. If you haven't seen it, you don't understand, trust me.
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 05, 2012

Benchmark the schools that are doing it well and replicate.

One way to get more qualified teachers is to eliminate teaching certificates.
A BS degree in engineering should more than qualify anyone to teach science in k-12, if that is what they are required to do, and not babysit.
DrMemory
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
axemaster: is it really the teachers in those high-ranking countries, or the mandatory pass-or-you're out testing? It could be the teachers, but I find it hard to believe that China's high ranking is due mostly to wonderful teachers. And who taught those teachers 20 years ago, when China wasn't as highly ranked?
brianweymes
5 / 5 (1) Apr 05, 2012
They likely didn't test the average cross-section of Chinese schools. There is a lot of variation in education quality outside the major cities.
Vendicar_Decarian
3.3 / 5 (4) Apr 06, 2012
There is no need to teach science in America when one of the dumbest and most incompetent men alive - George Bush Jr. - can be elected president.

Maybe Americans could be taught ChisenBop science, or Ebonics science. Some form of science where the numbers in the math never exceed the number of fingers and toes of the average student.

The decline of America is most certainly due to the failure of Americans to learn how to think rationally. This is particularly true of Conservative Americans whose leaders have readily admitted that they do not now, and do not intend to exist in a "reality based community".

The failure is due to American culture, not the methods of teaching.

Vendicar_Decarian
5 / 5 (4) Apr 06, 2012
It was when I was in school. Isn't it done now? Or are American students too busy dodging bullets and sexting each other on their crackphones?

"I would like to see the basics of the Scientific Method taught in primary schools" - TadChem

Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (3) Apr 06, 2012
Private schools are performing below par when it comes to science education compared to public schools.

Poor RyggTard.

"Benchmark the schools that are doing it well and replicate." - RyggTard

"A BS degree in engineering should more than qualify anyone to teach science in k-12" - RyggTard

Apparently RyggTard thinks that there is no skill in teaching.

I have had good teachers, and I have had bad teachers. The worst were those in university where the only credential required was a degree. Hell, you didn't even have to know how to speak English or mark a test.

In addition to a degree (and even this is not required for most grade school teachers) a teacher should be able to show and document the ability to teach.

ryggesogn2
2 / 5 (4) Apr 06, 2012
Businesses are stepping up:
Bayer: http://www.bayeru...dium.pdf
Raytheon: http://www.mathmo...m/#/home
Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (2) Apr 06, 2012
After outsourcing America's manufacturing sector to Asia.

"Businesses are stepping up" - RyggTard

Wow, a German company and one company from the U.S. military industrial complex.

Let us know when the plurality of companies in your community offer apprenticeships.

Vendicar_Decarian
3 / 5 (4) Apr 07, 2012
I wonder if RyggTard thinks that the sun revolves around the earth like the 25% of his Republican brothers do.
AWaB
not rated yet Apr 08, 2012
The article is spot on. The topics mentioned are exactly what need to be taught along with a rigorous helping of mathematics. Unfortunately, many of our school systems think that a BS in education means they are competent to teach these topics. This is utterly false. Until we start hiring engineers and scientists as teachers with competitive salaries, our K-12 educations will suffer in math and science. Unfortunately, many people have been tricked into thinking that all college majors are created equal.

There is also the case of many students won't want to study this. Instead of wasting their time and the teachers', teaching them a craft or a trade would be more useful. Making a bunch of kids pass general tests doesn't help anybody. It certainly isn't preparing them for college or the workforce.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2012
Another major fault in STEM education stems from the abandonment of applied math by mathematicians.
"Considering how many fools can calculate, it is surprising that it should be thought either a difficult or tedious task fo any other fool to learn how to master the same tricks.
Some calsulus-tricks are quite easy. Some are enormously difficult. The fools who write the text-books of advananced mathematics...seldom take the trouble to show you how easy the easy calculations are. ...they seem to sesire to impress you with their tremendous cleverness by going about it in the most difficult way.
The preliminary terror, which chokes off most high school studetns from even attempting to learn how to calculate, can be abolished once and for all by simply stating what is the meanin... of the two most principal symbols that are used in calculating: 'd' and 'the integral symbol, long S'."
From prologue and Ch1 of "Calculus Made Easy", 1910.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2012
rigorous helping of mathematics.

Silvanus Thompson, as early as 1910 observed that mathematics was poorly taught in part because those who wrote complicated texts to show how smart they were instead of attempting to teach the subject.
Thompson was British and it seems the Brits took this to heart. I have found math texts written by Brits, Indians, Aussies are much better than their USA counterparts.
Tennex
1 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2012
Before some time, the mathematicians did see the world clearly. Max Tegmark, a MIT teacher: The Mathematical Universe

but now something changed:

Alan P. Lightman, a MIT teacher: We are living in a universe uncalculable by science.

A "slight" paradigm shift, so to say...;-) But the change of formal education is the same problem, like to force the physicists into acceptance of cold fusion under the situation, when majority of them are already engaged in research of alternative methods of energy production/conversion/transport and storage. In similar way, the high school teachers will never admit, that the teaching of reality trough math equations has its apparent limits, because they would just threaten their tediously occupied social position.

For additional reading: Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Apr 08, 2012
The good oll days of the early 1900's seem to be close to the heart of RyggTard and his Conservative Brothers.

"Silvanus Thompson, as early as 1910 observed that mathematics was poorly taught in part because those who wrote complicated texts to show how smart they were instead of attempting to teach the subject." - RyggTard

and they are doing their best to send America back to the 1900's, if not earlier, before the time of modern science, and before the time that modern science began to show that their Conservative ideology was nothing but a collection of bunk, hokum, and fantasy.

Calculus is presented in a complicated manner for the purpose of being rigorous and complete. Rigor is a rather important thing in mathematics as it prohibits the kind of failure that is epidemic in Conservative ideology.

Perhaps this is why RyggTard is so unaccustomed to it.

In any case, too much rigor does complicate the teaching of mathematics. How much can be dropped is a matter of opinion.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Apr 08, 2012
Poor RyggTard. Mathematicians haven't been in the business of producing "applied math" for hundreds of years.

Applying math is the job of the physical scientist and the engineer, not the mathematician.

"Another major fault in STEM education stems from the abandonment of applied math by mathematicians." - RyggTard

Poor RyggTard. He is so hopelessly confused.
Mathophile
5 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2012
A basic but essential level of rigor can be taught very simply and very early so that students are able to us reasoning to understand early mathematics, algebra and calculus but how many graduating high school students can apply the basic properties of the real numbers and simple theorems to explain why the many mathematical procedures that they have memorized work or how these procedures might possibly be used in novel contexts? We do not now teach even this basic rigor in most US schools. This same mentality appears in the teaching of science.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Apr 08, 2012
I don't think you comprehend my use of the term "rigor".

I am referring to such requirements such as the requirement that functions not be piece wise continuous in order for there to be left/right differentiability, but that discontinuity does not restrict integration, etc. That during the simplification of an equation, at any time division by a variable opens the possibility of discontinuity in the result. etc.

Teachers typically skip over these complicating details in order to make the lessons more digestible.

Mathematicians know that the details - the rigor - are important and tend to write complicated texts that include it and which are difficult to digest.

Given that virtually no American children know what numbers are, or what the equal sign means, puts teachers in a very bad position, and the U.S. economy on a path to oblivion.

ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2012
A basic but essential level of rigor can be taught very simply and very early so that students are able to us reasoning to understand early mathematics, algebra and calculus but how many graduating high school students can apply the basic properties of the real numbers and simple theorems to explain why the many mathematical procedures that they have memorized work or how these procedures might possibly be used in novel contexts? We do not now teach even this basic rigor in most US schools. This same mentality appears in the teaching of science.

It has nothing to do with teacher unions insisting all teachers are paid the same?
Thousands of engineers are now retiring. What an opportunity for schools to have them teach! But, the NEA forbids.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2012
Has anyone ever wondered why physics and engineering departments find the need to offer mathematical physics and engineering math classes?
Why have math departments abdicated?
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2012
"To better prepare students and teachers for the world of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), NMSI replicates proven programs with quantifiable results such as the Advanced Placement Training and Incentive Program (APTIP) and UTeach on a national scale. NMSI programs are currently in 29 states."
http://www.exxonm...msi.aspx
"said Phil Mickelson. "The Academy is an opportunity for teachers to share best practices with colleagues and pick up tools to positively impact the science and math education students receive.""
http://www.exxonm...emy.aspx
"In direct response to the STEM question, Christie followed up by saying: "We have to incentivize people to become science and math teachers. We gotta pay them more."

And then, he dropped the "in today's society, they're more valuable than the gym teacher" quote. "
http://blogs.edwe...nce_teac
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2012
"Not surprisingly, a spokesman for the New Jersey Education Association didn't see eye-to-eye with that last comment.

"What's he got against gym teachers?" NJEA spokesman Steve Wollmer asked in an email to The Star-Ledger. "The role a teacher plays at all levels is equally important, equally challenging, and contributes equally to the outcome.""
"And besides, who's to say phys. ed. teachers, who may be the main figure pushing many kids to be physically active, aren't as valuable as teachers of other subjects? What data can back that up?"
{Who in the NJEA is qualified to collect and analyze the data?}
http://blogs.edwe...ers.html
And NJ has one of the highest per pupil spending in the USA.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Apr 09, 2012
Has anyone ever wondered why math departments find the need to offer physics and engineering?

"Has anyone ever wondered why physics and engineering departments find the need to offer mathematical physics and engineering math classes?" - RyggTard

Perhaps it is because mathematics, physics and engineering are different subjects.

Tarrrrrrrrd.
Vendicar_Decarian
not rated yet Apr 09, 2012
All teachers are paid the same?

"It has nothing to do with teacher unions insisting all teachers are paid the same?" - RyggTard

Average teacher salaries. California had the nation's highest average salary in 2002-03, at $55,693.

South Dakota had the lowest average salary in 2002-03, at $32,41

Average beginning teacher salaries. Alaska had the highest average beginning salary in 2002-03, at $37,401.

Montana had the lowest average beginning salary in 2002-03, at $23,052

Poor RyggTard. He knows nothing about everything.

How typically Libertarian of him.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2012
The article talks about "a new way of learning". They've had more than half a century of news ways! Montessori, which said each could only learn in their own special venue; calculators in kindergarten, based on Carl Sagan saying calculators, not numerals, were "the mathematical equivalent of written language"; computers in classrooms, the next step; Marva Collins which emphasized students who didn't know where to turn teaching themselves; self esteem, which said they were already perfect; "whole language", which said essentially that kids already had a tendency to recognize letters programmed in them when they were born; role models; Abbott schools; magnet schools. And none of it worked! Yet, when shills want to sell their new, expensive "system", they condemn only teaching by lecture and demonstration. Yet the traditional method produced Shakespeare, Kepler, Galileo, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Keats, Newton, Boyle, Twain, Poe, Sargent. The new peoduced none who accomplished.
IronhorseA
not rated yet Apr 10, 2012
Actually, I found the concepts of science rather easy to understand. The problem comes when it is time to take a test and actually do something with that knowledge. If you haven't taken the time to memorize facts and methods, your chances of answering the questions correctly are going to be low. Yes, memorizing is boring, but so is running scales on a musical instrument, but it is still necessary.
The real problem is everyone wants an easy way to whatever it is they want instead of 'paying their dues'.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Apr 10, 2012
If you haven't taken the time to memorize facts and methods

If you study science you don't really need to memorize all that much. Actually, if you rely on memorizing stuff this will never get you far enough to get a degree in physics, maths, engineering, chemistry, computer sciences, ...

If you understand what is being taught then rote learning isn't necessary at all.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2012
If you study science you don't really need to memorize all that much.

Depends upon the professor.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 11, 2012
Depends upon the professor.

If your understanding of a subject at university depends upon the quality of your professor then you haven't grasped what higher learning is about.
CardacianNeverid
5 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2012
What we are proposing through 8 1 Science is a new way of thinking about and teaching science -text

Then you should be teaching how to think, first and foremost (ie how to think critically in general). Once those thinking habits take root, the acquisition of other knowledge, scientific or otherwise, becomes a whole lot easier.
ryggesogn2
1 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2012
Depends upon the professor.

If your understanding of a subject at university depends upon the quality of your professor then you haven't grasped what higher learning is about.

Some professors demand memorization on tests. That was the discussion.
rah
not rated yet Apr 11, 2012
KhanAcademy.org is the answer. It is 100% free and always will be. No ads either. It is why the Internets were invented. The rest of the world is using it to slingshot past the U.S.'s under-educated and arrogant population. You should be using it too. I am 54 and have been on it for more than a year.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Apr 12, 2012
Some professors demand memorization on tests. That was the discussion.

No. This article is about SCIENCE education. Science isn't about memorizing facts. Science is about understanding things - how they interconnect, cause or corelate one another.
The only thing you need to 'memorize' is the lingo you need in order to talk with one another on a given subject. But that comes naturally during the course of your studies.

Not even in such memory nitensive subjects as medicine or ornithology is memorization a sizeable part of the curriculum. Wth the externalization of facts on easily accessible media that part becomes ever less important, anyhow.