Science in the United States
American Kids Want To Do Science - Schools Aren’t Teaching Science Enough - We Make It Easy
Released in 2013, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have since been adopted by 26 states. Another handful of states have written their own standards but are effectively the same.
As a group of science and math educators, we at QuantumCamp actually like these standards! They are good standards emphasizing practice, critical thinking, and relationships.
But we did not follow the NGSS when we built our unparalleled library of science curriculum. We were founded in 2012, before NGSS was released and during the waning days of No Child Left Behind, in which science was chopped into a series of disconnected facts for kids to memorize.
Of course, we ignored these and went off on our own! And thankfully, the U.S. education system caught up to us just a year later.
Everything henceforth, has been good in American science education, right?
Wrong. Eight years on, the state of affairs is dismal. According the 2019 Nations Report Card, most of our kids are not proficient in science:
4th Grade: 36% proficient
8th Grade: 35% proficient
12th Grade: 22% proficient
After a year of pandemic schooling, our nation’s performance has likely not improved.
Here is the problem. The effort and planning required to build a science program that meets the richness of NGSS is too difficult for most schools and teachers.
In this blog, I am going to recount the parallel work of QC and NGSS and explain how QC makes doing high-quality, highly engaging easy for teachers and schools to pull off. We make these wonderful, yet complex standards accessible to everyone.
PART 1: Starting Points and Beliefs
We believe science is awesome and the gateway to the enjoyment of all academics. After all, the moment we are born, we immediately endeavor to make sense of this world. Research demonstrates that infants quickly develop accurate notions across a range of scientific domains.
For example, infants quickly comprehend gravity and know an object will fall downward when released. (This seems obvious to us but when an infant predicts an object will fall downward, they are not far behind Isaac Newton’s grand theories on gravity!)
Schools ideally catalyze the process of making sense of our world by imparting guidance, structure, and cultural wisdom. If approached right, with highly qualified professional science teachers, we knew, based on research, that first graders could approach scientific problems and draw evidenced-based conclusions from their data. We believed middle schoolers could learn quantum physics. There is no limit to the rapidity of cognitive development of children!
On the love of science, education researchers have confirmed that “in both the hands-on and textbook classes, students rated science higher than any other subjects (e.g. math, reading). Ratings on a 5 point scale showed science averaged to 4.33 for all students compared to social studies (3.34), math (3.92), reading (3.98).” (Foley, page 6) There is even evidence that upon adoption of hands-on science curricula, reading and writing scores improve. (Foley, page 3)
Furthermore, research shows that “children enter grade school with rich knowledge of the natural world and an ability to engage in complex reasoning that provides a solid foundation for learning science” (Front Matter, page 335 ). And the long-held belief purported by Jean Piaget that humans pass through cognitive stages such that the teacher must wait for introducing advanced concepts has been thoroughly discounted. “Children lack knowledge and experience, but not reasoning ability (Front Matter, page 336)
PART 2: Research-Backed Recommendations
Early on, we adopted the core tenets of a pedagogical school of thought called ‘social constructivism’, which broadly states the learners acquire knowledge, always within a social and cultural context, through rectification of new observations and data with established knowledge. Theories of what science is and how it is done are congruent with social constructivism. The centerpiece of a QC class is active scientific investigation.
The National Research Council (NRC), in a treatise that served as the primary precursor in the development of NGSS, put forth a set of recommendations on science instruction. Some of the key recommendations were:
Science instruction should allow for students to participate in all of the practices that science encompasses. (Duschl, page 349)
The science classroom should provide opportunities for students to pursue these practices embedded in a social environment facilitating constructive argumentation and collaborative theory building. (Duschl, page 342)
Adequate time and resources should be dedicated to science. (Duschl, page 349)
Teachers should have adequate knowledge. (Duschl, page 349)
Science should be presented as a process of building theories and models. (Duschl, page 342)
PART 3: How Our Schools Are Falling Short
In 2009, prior to our founding, we anecdotally noticed that the resources schools dedicated to science were far below what was necessary for truly engaging kids. In our jobs at various public schools, we faced the standard fare of infrastructural barriers to rigorous, engaged learning: limited teaching time, large classes where it was difficult to have one-on-one time, no equipment, boring standards, and boring textbooks.
At the same time, research was pointing to dismal statistics on science instruction in American classrooms.
Over 40% of grade K-3 students and over 30% of grade 4-6 students can go full weeks with zero science instruction. (Banilower, page 53) Further, only 32% of teachers report having basic equipment like batteries and thermometers. (Banilower, page 102)
Schools spend less than $1 per year per student on consumable supplies and only $0.26 on science equipment. (Banilower, page 104 ) Most science classes are exclusively textbook or software-based. Only 11% of elementary school teachers have a degree in science or engineering. (Banilower, page 11) Roughly 80% of elementary teachers feel very well prepared to teach reading/language arts and mathematics, but only 39% feel very well prepared to teach science. (Banilower, page 24)
All of these realities no doubt underlie the poor grades in the Nation’s Report Card.
PART 4: Here is how QC is the unmatched leader ushering a new age of American science education
We have developed a novel curriculum, which solves every problem hindering the delivery of great, standards-based science! We call it Self-Paced Science. The following three features explain how and why it works.
Direct-to-kid. Whether the teacher is a Nobel prize winner or a homeschooling mom or dad, in 2021, there is no reason the adult needs to spend time developing lessons and procuring equipment. Science is taught infrequently because it is difficult for teachers to prepare lectures, prepare labs, and properly assess. A direct-to-kid curriculum beautifully circumvents these elements and allows for teachers and parents to connect with their students, even explore and learn with their students rather than teach at their students.
With lesson launches, lab procedures, and the discovery points from each lab all conveyed through a series of both videos and readings, kids work their way through using a super easy-to-use learning platform.
Hands-on. Test tubes, mass balances, beakers, and pipettes are cheap. There is no reason kids should learn science through video or teacher lectures. They should learn science by doing science.
With simple supply kits, kids have all of the equipment they need to discover grand science theories!
Challenge-based. Science is about explaining the wonders of nature. Scientists have always framed their pursuits of explaining nature as challenges. This authentic way of practicing science should be what kids do.
With succinctly crafted challenge statements, kids know exactly what the problem is and can focus on running experiments to try and find a solution.
We are making it possible, like no one else, for all kids to do great science!
Foley, B.J. and McPhee, C. (2008). Students’ Attitudes towards Science in Classes Using Hands-On or Textbook Based Curriculum. American Educational Research Association
Banilower, E.R., Smith, P.S., Weiss, I.R., Malzahn, K.A., Campbell, K.M., and Weiss, A.M. (2013). Report of the 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education. Horizon Research, Inc. Chapel Hill, N.C.
Duschl, R.A., Schweingruber, H.A., and Shouse, A.W. (Editors). (2007). Taking Science To School, Learning and Teaching Science in Grades K-8. National Research Council of the National Academies