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KPBS Midday Edition

Science Lessons Changing For K-12

Science Standards
Science Lessons Changing For K-12
GuestsJohn Spiegel, Science Coordinator, San Diego County Office of EducationNancy Taylor, Executive Director, San Diego Science Alliance

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is Midday Edition and state educators and the public are getting a look at the proposed new science standards for the classroom. They are the first national standards introduced in 15 years and they were developed with the help of several national science organizations. The next generation site standards focus more on how scientists work and give students a deeper look at the scientific basis for events like climate change. I'd like to welcome my guests. Nancy Taylor is executive director of San Diego science alliance and Nancy welcome to the program. NANCY TAYLOR: Great to be here, Maureen MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: John Spiegel is coordinator to the San Diego County office of education and John, welcome to the program. JOHN SPIEGEL: It's good to be here, Maureen. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How are the science standards difference than what is being touted San Diego classrooms right now? NANCY TAYLOR: Importantly is I think you mentioned there are standards that represent what are the current sciences and emphasis in the current sciences. It's been 15 years since we have a process and our world of science has changed drastically since that time. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Both dramatically and drastically. So, actually will classrooms look a little bit different? I mean, the way the students are interacting with the teacher, do you see that as a little different as when the new standards going to place? NANCY TAYLOR: Yes we are hoping to see changes at the classroom level on the part of both the teachers and the students that the teachers will be more knowledgeable about the subject matter and how to integrate concepts and ideas in both the sciences and engineering design and students will have more opportunities to ask questions, to investigate ideas in real world context. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I understand there is an attempt to blend math, technology and engineering into the science class in a more integrated approach. Going to ask you both why. Let me ask you first, Nancy, why math and technology and engineering, why do they show up so highly in these new standards? NANCY TAYLOR: In the standards, the next-generation science standards we do see correlations to the use of mathematics in the everyday practices of science. With respect to technology and engineering, have always been a component part of science, but not as explicit as their representative the next-generation site standards, so we will see an equal opportunity for students in K-12 to think about science and engineering practices and, this is new to California. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is that more of a mirror, John of what's happening in the real world now when it comes to people who work in science? JOHN SPIEGEL: Absolutely we are living in a very technical age and there's a lot more of the work we are doing you have to be able to blend all of the disciplines of science, technology, of math even language arts, they all have to come together if we are going to be a scientific literary society. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Who came up with the standards, John? JOHN SPIEGEL: It's been an ongoing process I believe over 25 states have participated over the last 25 years in developing a set of standards. They've been going through multiple iterations of people and the public being able to have a voice in the design of them. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Would you say that this means, these standards are being change simply because science has changed anyway? We know more now than we did then, or is it because there was something lacking in the way the science was being addressed classrooms across the country? JOHN SPIEGEL: I think science, what we know has changed but I also think the demands of what students need to have in order to compete and participate in the 21st century as part of this as well. We want them to be able to go into jobs and explore science careers and do so with the skills to do so. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nancy are part of the San Diego science alliance in a now you have listened for many years about all the statistics that come out about how American students are falling behind students in other developed countries in their knowledge of science and their aptitude in math. Is that still happening? NANCY TAYLOR: Absolutely it is still happening. We are sitting on 10 years of a federal legislation called no Child left behind, and during that term we have experienced a decline in the teaching of sciences at the elementary school level. And a very disciplinary approach to teaching disciplines of science at the high school level and this has resulted in a silo of how science is taught not commensurate with the advances in the sciences that are putting us as a nation at risk on an international level in terms of our productivity. And getting capable individuals into the workforce. So we continue to lag behind as a nation and we have learned a lot in the same decade about advantages, advances in the science of teaching as well as in the disciplines of science that can guide us in the future. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That surprises me because I thought no child left behind was all about testing and making sure that kids got the basics, considering math and perhaps science one of the basics. Was science not emphasized in the early grades, John? JOHN SPIEGEL: That's correct. I think the no child left behind primarily focused on English charts and mathematics. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So how are San Diego students doing on the subjects? I talked to Nancy about all the horrible information we hear about how American students are lagging behind, how are San Diego students doing in the sciences? JOHN SPIEGEL: I think in many ways our students represent the kind of trends we see across the country and there are pockets of wonderful science teaching going on in our community is and there are areas where there needs to be more improvement. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now there's a lot of talk about the STEM, science technology engineering and math and how the STEM education needs to be addressed and needs to be bolstered under the president's budget, which was unveiled last week he wants $80 million to train STEM teachers but it like to get both of your reactions to that, Nancy, you think it is a good thing, you think it's enough, you think it's too little? NANCY TAYLOR: I think it's a step in the right direction and I'm looking for Congress having a favorable view of that agenda obviously much more is going to be needed. In San Diego we have an innovation economy. We have worked, the science alliance in the County office of education over the last 17 years or so to really bring together partners in our innovation economy and our corporate culture as well as nonprofit and community organizations that enhance family understanding of science as well to move our community forward and to help us outpace California in terms of trends of preparing next-generation scientists and engineers? MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What about you the idea of $80 million toward STEM educators, would you like to see more going in that direction? JOHN SPIEGEL: I think always more would be better, but it is a good step. I think that we are just really beginning to explore this idea of STEM and what it can mean for our students and our community and raising our students to become the leaders and people that are innovating here in San Diego and elsewhere. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nancy one of the changes put into a new science standards is the subject of how climate change is addressed. How is it different? NANCY TAYLOR: It's very specific and coherent approach as students learn about the elements of climate and the changes that we have seen over a long period of time. As well as in a short period of time. They are not different necessarily go for California classrooms. In California we have been using good science to drive teaching in the middle grades about what's going on in the climate the education and the environment had provided California classroom curriculum resources to help teachers and students explore ideas around climate change. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Around the headlines I've seen around the new science standards climate change figures very high a new emphasis on climate change or climate change is going to be introduced into the science curriculum at a younger age. Younger students will be learning about climate change. John I guess my question is, that is still a controversial issue in a lot of places? JOHN SPIEGEL: I think the idea of climate change is one of the topics that is what is current in science to understand what science is telling us about it and how that can make an impact because of the types of questions that we are all grappling with and I think it's also a chance for our students to begin grappling with these big ideas that we hear about all the time in the news. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Nancy, could you provide an example of how a standard assignment for student in a science class, or what you call a student performance expectation, how that might be different if indeed the new science standards are approved by the state? NANCY TAYLOR: The next-generation science standards present an expectation for students to be able to understand a science idea in a real-world context and so a performance expectation might for instance ask students to create a model based on trends in the data about well, in this circumstance the climate may change or a physical state of some particular element may change and so the incorporation in the performance expectation of what is a science or engineering practice, what is the core disciplinary idea of the science as well as what are some of some cross cutting ideas that might branch out from the life sciences to the physical sciences. So, it looks significantly different than our current standards which are very granular granular in size compared to this more robust sense of practices and content. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It does sound very different. It's not the sort of rote kind of memorization of certain science standards, or certain science core information. It is more or less trying to get into how about sciences developed and how it is understood is that right, John? JOHN SPIEGEL: I think it's less about doing the right or wrong answer and it is more about knowing ways of collecting evidence, of collecting data and analyzing data and starting with the question that you may or may not be able to find the answer for but that is the heart of science and that's what we want students to be able to do. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Public hearings will be held across California on the new standard San Diego County office of education will have an informational meeting during the STEM summit next month what is the STEM segment? NANCY TAYLOR: The STEM summit is a new lunch for San Diego County the San Diego science alliance and several other community partners including the San Diego County office of education, connect, buyer,, and the local universities and colleges have come together to think about how we can move the needle in San Diego with respect to science technology engineering and math. So, we are gathering folks on May 1, Grossmont College to help share ideas about what is already happening and what is a great success story and metrics to manage and help incubate new schools and partnerships that want to focus around learning MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The California Board of Education will be focusing on the newsstands in November now if they are approved, when could they actually show up in the classroom? NANCY TAYLOR: I think right now it is fall of 2014. There's a lot of work that needs to happen from that point until we can get them to the classrooms but there's a lot of things we can do now to start learning about them and what they are asking our students to do and begin to make the transition in our classrooms now. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you excited about these change, John? JOHN SPIEGEL: I'm very excited about them MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Tell us about it. JOHN SPIEGEL: I think it means you're getting kids at getting people who are doing and learning and asking questions and dissipating in the scientific process. If we can have the students do that I think that makes us better citizens, it makes us better able to look at the issues in science around us and have a good conversation about it. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: As I said there are what is it, 29 states that well, every state in the union will be looking as to whether or not to adopt the science standards and as I said some of this stuff is still controversial for some states. You do not expect, Nancy, this to be controversial here in California. But, would you be surprised if the standards are accepted by all 50 states? NANCY TAYLOR: I would be surprised if all 50 states took this reach. Some states and specifically districts are very concerned about local control and so the value on the other hand of a nationally driven set of standards or the framework specifically for the standards were developed-nationals Academy of science so we can be sure that the content of the standards have been vetted for appropriate and accurate science. So it would behoove all states to look at them, but because of other governmental forces not every state may. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there a problem that one student in one state learning one thing about science and another student in another science state learning another thing, should some things be accepted across the board as what we know about the physical world? NANCY TAYLOR: I would say yes. I think there should be some common pieces of learning should be across all states. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But, we don't see that happening anytime soon? NANCY TAYLOR: Well as a nation I think we all come to an agreement that these standards, next-generation science standards really do detail the kind of science that kind of approach to science that we want our nations students to experience. The states get to weigh in on their individual implementation. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now it would seem to me, and tell me if I'm wrong, but teachers are going to need to have to get some remedial instruction in how to implement the standards and teach them in the classroom is how much (inaudible), John? JOHN SPIEGEL: I think when the state adopts what standards will be there will be a need to look at the curriculum curriculum oppression most importantly the way we will provide professional development to help support teachers in the transition to the new standards. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And that is going to put more time between when the standards are accepted at the time they can be taught in the classroom, is that right? JOHN SPIEGEL: It is, I don't know if it will be more time I know it will be an ongoing process, the need to do ongoing professional development. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What is the most exciting thing I asked John what is the most exciting thing about the new standards, Nancy? NANCY TAYLOR: They set the bar, insert for K-12 to what we want to see happening in colleges and universities. At the college level there are all kinds of undergraduate and graduate research opportunities. I am excited at the K-12 level we will have some opportunities to have students understand at earlier ages the inquiry process and consider some of the things that they might do to find a solution for a problem we have in our neighborhood or in the world. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And as you told us before people can find out more about this at the STEM summit, this whole topic, is that right, coming up on May 5? NANCY TAYLOR: That's correct as well as the San Diego County office of education will have more information in the California Department of Education that can direct interested parties to review the standards. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to thank my guests Nancy Taylor executive director of the San Diego County science alliance and John Spiegel, science coordinator at the County office of education. Thank you both very much.

For the first time in 15 years, education leaders are transforming the way science is taught in the classroom. The proposed Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), unveiled last week, aim to prepare K-12 students to be better decision makers about scientific and technical issues and to apply science to their daily lives.

The standards are designed to delve deeper into fewer concepts, identify climate change as a core concept and include engineering practices.

"The standards will mirror what is actually happening in science right now, where the fields of science naturally intersect with engineering and technology," said Nancy Taylor, executive director of the San Diego Science Alliance.


Taylor got to review the standards during her time as science coordinator at the San Diego County Office of Education.

NGSS were developed by a coalition of science experts, educators and 26 states, including California throughout the last two years.

“In the next decade, the number of jobs requiring highly technical skills is expected to outpace other occupations,” said state California Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “These Next Generation Science Standards will help students achieve real-world practical skills so they can help maintain California’s economic and technological leadership in the world.”

A series of public hearings will be held throughout the state before the California State Board of Education approves the standards in November.

Taylor said she expects NGSS to be implemented 18 months after they're approved.