Science Standards for a New Generation

November 9, 2011 — It's not uncommon for a school kid to ask teachers the question, "how is this going to help me later in life?"

Well this is the same question national leaders in the science field are asking of the current, national standards we're teaching our children and the answer those leaders have found is that it's time for the standards to put America's children ahead later in life....a scientists right here in South Dakota are leading the way for those changes.

In Julie Olson's advanced biology class at Mitchell High School, the students are making arm joints out of wood. Student Avery Roy says, "we can see how scientists make real, prosthetic limbs."

This is just one method Olson uses to teach the kids about the human body. The subject is one of many current, national standards say students need to learn before leaving high school. Julie Olson says the standards are, "what a student should be able to do," but, she says, the guidelines are aging, "they haven't had new, national standards for over 15 years."

So the National Research Council is joining with several other groups to write new science standards. Olson was chosen as one of 41 people from across the country to help in the writing process, a process that started last July when the NRC released a new framework for scientific learning.

Olson and her 40 co-writers meet in Washington, D.C. every so often and use that frame work to decide exactly what K-12 students in the 21st Century need to learn. She says, "it's neat to be a part of it, you know, like they say, at the head of the pack."

And South Dakota is actually one of the 20 lead states chosen to help construct the new standards.

Sam Shaw is a science specialist with the South Dakota Department of Education. He applied to get our state involved in creating the Next Generation Science Standards. Shaw says we were chosen for our unique, rural perspective. He says, "in some of these rural schools you actually have one science teacher for and actual 7-12 school."

It's a perspective Shaw brings to meetings with the other states, in which they review and critique the standards written by Olson and the other 40 writers. Shaw says, "our process, periodically, as the standards are written, we actually get to review it four times."

The final step is for scientific experts to check the finished product against the NRC's original framework. Shaw says, "so these standards will be set up to hold our students to a higher level."

The writing panel has scoured the globe for the best, scientific teaching methods and they've found The United States needs to employ more engineering in the classroom. Shaw and Olson say it's less about teaching students static facts and more about showing them skills they can use after high school end, for example: being able to argue a point backed up with data.

Shaw says, "so the practice aspect really leads the teacher into a position to set up those experiences in the classroom, to be behave as a scientist or engineer would in the field," and by making these ideas the standard across the nation, it should make this kind of teaching possible for every teacher. Olson says, "we wanna make it so anybody can get them and say, 'okay, I know exactly what this means, this is exactly what my students should be able to do.'"

And the hope is by giving our kids the scientific knowledge they need, they can compete with other countries in the future. Olson says, "the United States needs to be at the forefront. we need to be able to come up with the new ideas and the solutions to the problems," which she says can only begin by showing students just how important science is in their own lives. It's a concept Avery Roy seems to get. She says, "in the real world it'll give me a leg up in whatever career that I choose," a leg up that needs to start in the classroom.

Sam Shaw says this is a completely state-driven project. The Next Generations Science Standards do not receive any money from the federal government. Shaw says its funded entirely by grants from organizations like the Carnegie Foundation.

He says the standards will be complete in December 2012 and then each state will decide if and how it will employ them uniformly in the classroom.

Preliminary standards will be available for the public to look over this coming February.


KSFY News 

By Alex Ronallo, KSFY Staff

Posted Nov. 9, 2011, at 11:04 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 10, 2011, at 7:16 p.m.