New science standards may help narrow skills gap


By Patricia Daddona, Providence Business News Staff Writer

Providence, RI—November 25, 2013—Educators from the R.I. Department of Education recently completed a “road show” on what next-generation science standards will look like in the classroom when they are implemented over the next three years.

The information sessions, which began Oct. 1 and ended earlier this month, weren’t heavily attended but are part of a long-term plan to get the word out before curriculums are revamped by the 2016-17 academic year.

The new standards are intended to overlap with Common Core teachings in math, reading and writing (the English Language Arts) and to be used to guide an updated curriculum, and more importantly, a new way of teaching that better prepares students to enter the workforce, said Peter McLaren, a RIDE science and technology specialist, and Diane Sanna, curriculum director at the Tiverton public schools.

“What we’re looking for over the K-12 spectrum is for students to think and act like scientists, not necessarily to produce scientists and engineers, but to think differently,” said McLaren. “In Rhode Island and any state that adopts these standards, students are going to be better prepared to go from a K-12 environment into the workforce.”

The framework for the scope of study being developed by teachers here and elsewhere across the country is informed by guidelines put forward by the National Research Council in 2011. The vision behind the standards, which is supported by research in the 412-page document, is for every student by the end of their K-12 experience to be engaged in the science and engineering practices and be able to apply them to the core ideas of science and engineering, McLaren said.

Rhode Island was one of 26 lead states partnering in the development of these standards this past spring, and one of eight states that have formally adopted them. The standards cover a range of subject matter, including life science, earth and space science, physical science, engineering and technology. The seven other states are California, Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, Vermont, Kentucky and Washington.

Sanna’s school district is one of eight in Rhode Island that are already undertaking professional development and revising the framework for their curriculums. The others are Bristol-Warren, Woonsocket, Cumberland, Central Falls, Cranston and two charter-school districts, the Trinity Academy for the Performing Arts and Beacon Charter in Woonsocket.

When these districts redesign the scope and sequence of units of study, those approaches are going to be transparent models that all districts can use as a starting point, McLaren said. By the end of this year, RIDE will put them in an online portal so educators in the state can access them. “There are shifts in content,” Sanna said.

“There’s a lot more focus in physical science and engineering integrated throughout science instruction. The typical science teacher does not have a lot of training in engineering.”

The outdated teaching model would have a teacher standing behind a desk, writing on a white board while students read text or take notes, or teaching a science lab by giving step-by-step instructions. The new model will be more interactive, and the emphasis will be on students taking the initiative to ask questions, form arguments verbally or in writing, and problem-solve, McLaren and Sanna said.

“This is more about students asking questions and developing solutions to real-world problems,” Sanna said. “It prepares them for the work-world better, for the skills and practices they’ll need for colleges and career.”

Read the PBN article here.