Saturday, April 7, 2012

K-12 Science Framework

This is in draft form and redundant. I wrote it in the summer (2011). Parts of this draft are found in Science in Elementary School and on my science page

The new K-12 Science [conceptual] framework from the National Research Council (July 2011) is a disappointment. The framework committee merged science with engineering, skimped over math needed to do science, stressed science practices over content, and required little content knowledge in elementary and middle school, which is the same problem we have had for decades. For instance, the word “atom” is not used until the 6-8 grade band. The idea that atoms are composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons (atomic structure) is reserved for grades 9-12. The sequence is off-target. But, in my view, the biggest blunder, in addition to a lack of math and mixing science and engineering, is combining chemistry and physics (total 24 pages). Life science content takes up 20 pages. Chemistry and physics are woefully underrepresented.

If we want students to understand the world, then we should teach them substantially more physics and mathematics early on. Furthermore, we should establish math and science standards that, at the least, match the benchmarks from the nations that excel in these academic disciplines. The new K-12 Science framework does not do this. The Science Framework is the latest version (vision) of science education, but it is off-target because it requires very little knowledge of math needed to do science and very little science content knowledge. The committee’s frame of mind in composing the framework is troublesome.
The Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards was charged with developing a framework that articulates a broad set of expectations for students in science. The overarching goal of our framework for K-12 science education is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology. (p. 14)

It sounds great! The caveat is that the statement is packed with unclear ideas that cannot be measured. Indeed, unclear generalizations are commonplace in education stuff and, in this case, the opposite of what science is. What is sufficient knowledge or appreciation? Sure, I bet the average citizen is going to read and study science and scientific studies after they graduate from school. To imply this is nonsense. The Framework’s expectations are speculation. How can you have expectations that are nonspecific and not measurable? I guess the mostly “non-scientific” committee thought they could. For example, the word “atom” is not used until the 6-8 grade band, and the atomic structure (protons, electrons, and neutrons) is not introduced until high school. (Surely, you’re joking!) 

Table by LT, ThinkAlgebra. It is based on Chemistry/Physics.

We infer that quarks exist even though we have never seen an individual quark. And, we infer that electrons exist even though we have never seen an electron. These inferences are based on solid measurements. 

Larry Cuban writes that the Framework is a “science for living.”  A blogger’s reply rephrases Cuban by saying that the Framework represents “issues-orientated, inquiry-based science.” Ze’ve Wurman concludes, “The document simply teaches students science appreciation, rather than science.”  

I call it the document to nowhere. The science framework lacks sufficient chemistry and physics content and depth and states unclear goals; e.g., "all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science."

A few years ago I wrote that mathematics must be brought back into elementary and middle school science. Today’s science programs or textbooks seem to skimp on the math needed to do the science. In the Sputnik era, the United States produced superior, coherent science programs. For example, Science--A Process Approach (1967) stressed the process in the context of the content, along with the mathematics used to do science. For instance, in Part B (First Grade) four of the six science processes were math or math-related [Using Numbers (arithmetic), Measuring, Communicating (graphing), and Using Space/Time Relationships]. In short, the math needed to do science was a major part of the SAPA science program, starting in the 1st grade. Moreover, the math taught in the program was very specific and ahead of grade level. 

College professor James S. Walker (Physics) writes, “The goal of physics is to gain a deeper understanding of the world in which we live.”  Indeed, the goal of science is to gain a deeper understanding of the world. Richard Feynman says that students should study physics because it plays a basic role in all phenomena. But, the Framework does not specifically state this view as its main premise. In fact, the Framework stresses “practices” of scientists; however, learning the processes of scientists does not imply that the student is learning content. Critical thinking requires considerable content knowledge. Learning what a scientist does is not the same as learning content. Kids are novices, not experts. They need to learn content, lots of it. In math class, I do not expect students to learn what mathematician do. I expect them to learn how mathematics works--how one idea links to or builds on another idea. I want students to learn essential content and skills so they can work math problems from different disciplines, including physics.   
Richard Feynman writes, “Physics is the most fundamental and all-inclusive of the sciences, and has had a profound effect on all scientific development.” To Feynman, the scientific method is “observation, reason, and experiment.” This is what we should teach kids. Feynman refers to rules of the game, which scientists guess and check by experiment. Feynman stresses, “The sole test of the validity of any idea is an experiment.” Untestable ideas do not make sense in science. Ian Stewart, a mathematician, writes, “Mathematics has played a central role in the physical sciences for hundreds of years.” The framework does not emphasize the intrinsic link between science and mathematics.  
What about biology? There are plenty of numerical patterns in biology (e.g., Fibonacci numbers, golden number, etc.), but Ian Stewart (The Mathematics of Life), points out that “Mathematics is being used not just to help biologists manage their data [e.g., enormous DNA genome databases] or improve their instruments, but on a deeper level: to provide significant insights into the science itself, to help explain how life work. Over the past ten years, there has been a massive growth in biomathematics--mathematical biology.”
Physics is the fundamental science, but it is mistreated in the Framework. First, it is lumped together with chemistry. If life science is treated as a separate topic, then chemistry and physics should be separated and expanded. Life science content takes up about 20 pages, while physics and chemistry combined take up 24 pages. The choices made by the Framework’s committee show a bias--life science content is more important than chemistry or physics. The committee writers say that chemistry and physics have too much in common to be treated separately, but I can make the case that chemistry and life science have much in common, too.   
The framework committee tries to justify lumping science with engineering rather than with mathematics. This is the new vision: the committee skimps over math. 
The laws of thermodynamics are nowhere to be found. The word “atom” is not used until 6-8. The idea that atoms are composed of electrons, protons, and neutrons (atomic structure) is reserved for grades 9-12. The sequence is off-target. 

The committee justifies its decisions on content by saying that the document is broad-based and for all students. It uses very general statements. It is merely a structure to composed standards. In my view, the framework falls woefully short because it leaves out important ideas in both chemistry and physics--from thermodynamics to relativity. 

The new science framework from the National Research Council (Framework for K-12 Science Education) has never been tested. Ironically, experimental testability is a fundamental principle in science. Yet, educators are asked to accept the framework “on authority,” something Galileo Galilei argued against. The framework is a guide for states and schools to write new science standards. It is not Common Core, which is [or will be] working on its own set of science standards, presumably using this framework. The new science framework, oddly enough, was written by the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education and its committee, which is made up of mostly of educators, not real scientists. How good is the framework? Don’t ask. (I think I hear the late Richard Feynman grumbling, “If it disagrees with experiment, then it is wrong.”) Accepting something on authority takes us back to the days before Galileo. 

The writers insist that the framework is for all students, broad-based, and not a grade-by-grade or course description. Its function is to develop a new set of science standards. And, it lumps science with engineering right for the start.

The science framework lacks sufficient chemistry and physics content and depth and states unclear goals; e.g., "all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science."
The framework writers “anticipate” that all students will be able to “to engage in public discussions on science-related issues, to be critical consumers of scientific information related to their everyday lives, and to continue to learn about science throughout their lives.” Lastly, the writers write, “We hope that a science education based on the Framework will motivate and inspire a greater number of people [to go into the science fields]” and its allied subjects, such as psychology, computer science, and economics.” Let me point out that these well-intended expectations are assumptions and assumptions are just that. There is absolutely no evidence that the Framework's new vision will produce better science standards or better science students. But, this is the committee’s “hope,” which means that there is no supportive evidence. Moreover, the Framework committee says that students should continue to take honors and AP courses in the sciences. But, this may not be possible because students have not learned enough content. 
The college-educated citizen, much less the average citizen, does not have the expertise needed to understand many of the scientific issues or studies that arise. This will not change. Often, I have trouble comprehending some of the articles in Scientific American or parts of M-theory (The Grand Design, Hawking, Mlodinow). 
What is troublesome is that the design teams (content experts in the sciences) were excluded from the committee’s final decisions. The document states (p. 17), “No members of the design teams participated in the discussions during which the committee reached consensus on the content of the final draft.” This alone makes the framework suspect. 

Ze’ve Wurman writes, “I noticed something odd. The Framework does not expect students to use any kind of analytical mathematics while studying science.” In short, kids do not use mathematics to solve science problems. No algebra, no trig, no calculus. Wurman notes, “There is nothing about actually being able to model a system by equations, or solve it using mathematical techniques.”  Wurman searched for words like algebra in the 280 pages of “lofty prose.” Nothing, well almost. 
Wurman did find a reference to one equation, which starts as a word equation (distance traveled = velocity multiplied by time elapsed) and is then symbolized as s = vt. I am not sure students understand what velocity means in science, because students are seldom taught vectors and do not learn how to “resolve” the components of a vector to solve physics problems. 
The Framework does not require students to use mathematics to model systems. Wurman points out, “Only statistics and computer applications (e.g., simulations, spreadsheets) seem to have a place in this strange document.” Wurman concludes, "The document simply teaches students science appreciation, rather than science.” 

Draft 1
Needs revision.
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