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2012 May 26

Next Generation Science Standards

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:48
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The first public draft of the Next Generation Science Standards is available from May 11 to June 1. We welcome and appreciate your feedback. [The Next Generation Science Standards]

Note that there are only 3 weeks given for the public review of this draft of the science standards, and that time is almost up.  I’ve not had time to read the standards yet, and I doubt that many others have either.  We have to hope that someone we respect has enough time on their hands to have done the commenting for us (but the people I respect are all busy—particularly the teachers who are going to have to implement the standards—so who is going to do the commenting?).

I’m also having some difficulty finding a document containing the standards themselves.  There are clear links to front matter, how to interpret the standards, a survey for collecting feedback, a search interface, and various documents about the standards, but I had a hard time finding a simple link to a single document containing all the standards.  It was hidden on their search page, rather than being an obvious link on the main page.

I glanced over some of the high school standards, and I was not particularly impressed by either the clarity or the content.  The “Engineering Design” standards seemed to be contentless, and several of the physics standards seemed rather arbitrary in what they included and excluded.

Why, for example, is

f. Obtain, evaluate, and communicate scientific literature about the differences and similarities between analog and digital representations of information to describe the relative advantages and disadvantages.

considered part of “HS.PS-ER    Electromagnetic Radiation”?

There is no mention in the standards of any computer science, and precious little mention of computers (usually invoking the use of a simulation of something).

There are some good points in the standards (like requiring that students understand evolution), but I’ve no idea how well the standards align to what can and should be taught to middle school and high school students.  I hope that there are teachers who are familiar with the capabilities of average students who will comment on the standards relevant to classes they teach, to make sure that the standards are neither ridiculously vague nor unrealistically rigorous.

Teachers wanting to look at only a tiny subset of the standards (not all 87 pages) can use the search page to pick out just the relevant standards and comment on them.

2011 June 5

Analysis of Common Core Standards

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:59
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The article

Common Core Standards: The New U.S. Intended Curriculum by Andrew Porter, Jennifer McMaken, Jun Hwang, and Rui Yang
doi: 10.3102/0013189X11405038 Educational Researcher 40(3):103–116, May 5, 2011.

has an analysis of the new Common Core Standards, comparing them to existing state standards, standards in other countries, and a few well-known assessments or standards documents. (I’ve blogged about a different comparison almost a year ago in California standards vs. Common Core.)

The method published in Educational Researcher attempts to reduce the complexity of comparing huge, complex documents down to single numbers measuring similarity, which loses a lot of the information. Saying that California shares 0.27 similarity (on a scale of 0 to 1) with the Common Core for kindergarten math standards, or 0.31 for high-school math, does not tell me whether the Common Core is better or worse, just that it is different.

The similarity measure is computed from comparing the weights given to each of 1085 cells of an array in math (815 for language arts). The arrays are 2-dimensional, crossing topics with cognitive demand. The projections onto the cognitive demand axis are shown for “state” standards (which I assume are the sum over all grades and states for which they have data) and the Common Core.  Later on in the paper, they imply that the tables are just for grades 3–6, but they failed to have any caption on the table (so much for “Data displays” being taught to educational researchers).

level state CC
Memorize  12.11%  9.50%
Perform Procedures  48.82%  43.74%
Demonstrate understanding  28.66%  35.65%
Conjecture  7.78%  5.96%
Solve non-routine problems  2.63%  5.16%

Of course, this comparison is for all states and some subset of grades, not specifically for any one state, which is where the comparison might be useful. Still, I’m glad to see an increase in “demonstrate understanding” and “solve non-routine problems”, and a decrease in “memorize” and “conjecture”. (Note: conjecturing is a useful thing, but grade schools and high schools confuse it with guessing, so students are better off not being taught to do it wrong.)

A more informative table is the one that breaks things down by major topic area:

Topic state CC
Number sense 13.84% 32.75%
Operations 15.08% 22.72%
Measurement 0.00% 17.79%
Consumer applications 11.58% 0.05%
Basic algebra 0.03% 13.40%
Advanced algebra 14.47% 0.00%
Geometric concepts 0.24% 5.73%
Advanced geometry 9.27% 1.64%
Data displays 2.83% 2.76%
Statistics 4.72% 3.16%
Probability 0.15% 0.00%
Analysis 0.03% 0.00%
Trigonometry 0.64% 0.00%
Special topics 0.32% 0.00%
Functions 1.09% 0.00%
Instructional technology 25.71% 0.00%

This table tells me more about the weaknesses of their method than it does about the standards, though.  I see no way that one set of standards can be all “basic algebra” and no “advanced algebra” while the other is all “advanced” and no “basic”.  I also have no idea what they mean by “analysis”, but it is almost certainly not the topic that mathematicians call “analysis”, which is a more advanced form of calculus.  The numbers in both columns look ludicrous (25.7% on “instructional technology”, which probably means use of calculators?  32.75% on number sense?).  Quite frankly, after seeing this table, I do not believe anything the authors have to say about the standards—the numbers look cooked to make their point, rather than being a dispassionate analysis of the data.  Looking further in their paper, I see that this is just incompetent proof-reading, as their graphs show low “advanced algebra” content in both  columns, and do not show  huge bump for “instructional technology” in the state column

So, the one interesting table in their paper is clearly garbage.  What a waste of effort, doing all that work then failing to proofread the paper and printing trash. Other incompetent editing: some tables have states labeled with names, others have “State A”, “State G”, … .

I think that Educational Researcher needs to retract the paper and have the authors redo the paper with proper proofreading and captioning of their tables and figures—this is unacceptably bad work for an academic publisher.


2010 July 26

California standards vs. Common Core

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:38
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Bill Evers and Ze’ev Wurman have just published an opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee, asserting that adopting Common Core standards in math would be a step backwards for California, as the K–7 common core standards are weaker than the current California standards, and would make 8th grade algebra more difficult to teach.

I have not had time to do a detailed comparison, but the reviews I’ve seen suggest that Evers and Wurman have a good point—the current California standards, which were adopted in 1997, are generally regarded as more advanced than the Common Core.  The California standards were instituted out of the same general dissatisfaction with poor math education that prompted the Common Core, but California did it quicker and, some believe, better.

So the question now facing California educrats, particularly the California State Board of Education, is whether having a nationwide agreement on what belongs at each level in school is valuable enough to accept some damage to what is currently the best of the state math standards.  The California State Academic Content Standards Commission thought so (with Evers and Wurman dissenting).

My opinion is that the whole notion of age-based grade levels is wrong and twiddling with the standards won’t fix that.  There is value to having standards that all schools and curricula must meet, but I wish that the standards were not labeled with grade levels.  There are students ready for algebra long before 8th grade, and students who are barely ready for it by the end of high school.  Having students progress through the standards based on mastery, rather than age, would be greatly helped by not labeling the standards with grade levels.

One specific criticism of the Common Core that Evers and Wurman raise, that there is a big jump at 8th grade because the K–7 standards are too weak to provide sufficient support for the 8th grade algebra standards, is probably a valid one and should certainly be considered by the State Board.

2010 July 22

Quick look at New Science Education Standards

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 14:45
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The National Academies’ Board on Science Education has released a draft of Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards. The deadline for feedback is August 2, 2010. This project was started in January 2010, and so has been rather hastily put together. The committee did look at earlier efforts, including Science College Board Standards for College Success, so they may have had enough time, though synthesizing the results from their 4 different design teams was probably hastily done.  I would not be surprised to find major inconsistencies at the seams of the report.

I have not had time to read the report yet (it is 190 pages long, albeit double-spaced). A quick look over the intro reveals that they are focusing on “core ideas” [page 1-14]:

A core idea for K-12 science instruction is a scientific idea or practice that:

  1. Has broad importance across multiple science and/or engineering disciplines and/or is a key organizing concept of a single discipline
  2. Provides a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems
  3. Relates to the interests and life experiences of students or can be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technical knowledge
  4. Is teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of sophistication and depth.

The basic idea, to go from the current mile-wide/inch-deep approach to science education towards a more in-depth coverage of fewer topics, seems to me basically sound.  One danger is going to a foot-wide/inch-deep approach, where fewer topics are covered but the coverage remains superficial.  This is an implementation issue that can’t easily be addressed in a framework (note that the framework does not include detailed standards, so the depth remains unspecified).

They do, somewhat surprisingly for educators, recognize that science and engineering are not the same, saying[page 2-4]

Like science, engineering is a human intellectual endeavor, with its own community of practitioners, its unique body of established knowledge and practices, its variety of specializations and its common cross-cutting ideas and approaches. These overlap with those of science but also differ from them. In particular, the goal of engineering differs from that of science. Its outcomes are products and processes rather than theories and its central discipline, rather than inquiry into natural systems, is the design of systems to serve specific purposes and solve specific problems.

Their section on integrating engineering has a pretty good discussion of the similarities and differences between scientific and engineering thought processes.  It looks like this framework is worthwhile reading for science teachers, even if the framework is not adopted.

2010 July 13

Bioinformatics in high school biology

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:38
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One of the main topics in today’s Education Committee meeting of the International Society for Computational Biology was how to get bioinformatics integrated into high-school biology classes.

The tutorial workshop on Saturday was reported as being very successful, with the teachers being enthusiastic about the possibilities of integrating bioinformatics into their courses.  One problem that was pointed out is that AP bio students resist learning anything that won’t be on the test, so we decided to start the process of talking with the College Board about changing the AP curriculum and AP test to include some bioinformatics.  We expect this to be a slow process.

We now have a task force that will be looking at the AP curriculum and trying to find ways to incorporate bioinformatics into teaching that curriculum (so not adding topics, but adding more hands-on learning to the pedagogy). We think that this is a more fruitful approach than trying to add a bioinformatics unit to the courses.

We’ll be relying on the official information about the AP Biology course from the College Board.

I’m hoping that the teachers who attended the workshop will do some blogging on their attempts to include bioinformatics in their own courses.  Having 10 or 20 teachers experimenting with the pedagogy is going to be much more valuable than theoretical thinking about what should be done.

Note: I’m going to add new thoughts to this post as comments, rather than editing the main post, partly because I expect to be dribbling ideas in over the next couple of months. At some point I may start a new post with an actual proposal for discussion.

Note for our international audience: The AP curriculum is a program in the United States for “Advanced Placement” and is an attempt to get first-year college courses taught in high schools.  Many US universities provide college credit for AP courses, if students score sufficiently well on the associated AP test.  The content of the AP Bio courses is fairly standardized (to match the test), but the ways in which it is taught vary considerably. The International Society for Computational Biology is interested in integrating bioinformatics into high-school biology worldwide, but that was too daunting a task to start with.  We decided to start with the region where we had the most volunteers (USA) and see what we could do there.  Hopefully, anything we develop for AP biology will be usable elsewhere, at least in places where instruction is in English.

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