It’s been more than 50 years since The Jetsons came into living rooms and promised viewers things beyond their wildest dreams. Of course, not all of their predictions have come true yet, but since the show is set in 2062, science has quite a few years to catch up. Still, the world is pretty futuristic these days. Maybe you don’t have a car inside a briefcase, but you probably have a computer, a calculator, a jukebox, a camera, several books, video games, mail, and a flashlight all in a telephone in your pocket. And while you don’t have Rosie to vacuum your floors, you probably own, or know someone who owns, a robotic vacuum.
In fact, when you think about it, robots are everywhere. A robot almost certainly helped to assemble your car, and your latest order from Amazon was likely moved around the warehouse by robots. Maybe you have eaten at the new Boston restaurant where robots do the cooking. If you have been a patient at the UCSF Medical Center, it is likely that your meals were delivered by a robot and your prescriptions were filled by a robotic pharmacist. You may even know someone who has bought a robo-pet—be it a cuddly robotic kitty to keep a senior company or a robotic dog to load the dishwasher.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have brought many U.S. classrooms into the 21st century. In a world increasingly ruled by computers and robotics, this knowledge and these skills will be instrumental to the success of tomorrow’s workforce.
NGSS has brought something else to the classroom—inquiry-based learning. Gone are the days when a science teacher would write facts on a board and explain topics to a classroom. The NGSS expects students to participate in their own learning. The standards call for students to form hypotheses, test theories, and analyze data for themselves. Students are active learners. Thus, the NGSS guidelines have changed the methods used to teach science. This presents challenges to teachers. So how to implement these standards in today’s classroom? Here are five challenges teachers face.
To understand the impact of the NGSS, take a look around. What do smartphones, multivitamins, organic pesticides, self-driving cars, solar panels, and kevlar have in common? Science. Science touches everyone in the United States every day, yet the U.S. national standards for teaching K-12 science remained unchanged from 1997 until 2013. During that time frame,
researchers found evidence that neutrinos have mass in 1998
scientists discovered three new synthetic elements: livermorium (element 116) in 2000, moscovium (element 115) in 2003, and tennessine (element 117) in 2010
the human genome was published in 2001
Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006
the first clone of an extinct animal was born in 2009
NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars in 2012
Each one of these breakthroughs highlights how closely intertwined science, technology, and engineering are. With all of these advancements and innovations, the curricula for science were badly in need of an update. This is why the National Research Council (NRC), National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), along with lead partners from 26 states, came together to design the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a comprehensive guideline for teaching science from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Educational Equity and Changing Demographics in the U.S.
The promise of the Brown v. the Board of Education ruling was that all children would have equal access to a world-class public education. Despite great advances in public education, existing structural and social barriers continue to limit many children’s access to a good education. Thus the movement for educational equity in the classroom continues.
Research by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has shown that overall social mobility has not risen in OECD countries and in some places inequalities of income and wealth have increased. In the United States, there has been a rise in childhood poverty from 17% in 2000 to 22% in 2015 (Kids Count, 2015). Studies have found that the poorest students are nearly four times as likely to fail in math than their wealthiest peers. Continue reading →
So much to teach and so little time to teach it all! Educators are tasked with preparing students for a multitude of tests while they are also pressed to prioritize STEM education. Furthermore, the growing interest in adapting lessons to personalized learning and performance-based tasks only adds to the demand on their time. As a result, some subjects seem to be falling by the wayside. One subject that is often sidelined is civics.
A recent 2018 nationally representative survey conducted by Education Week Research Center noted, “More than half of principals, assistant principals, and other school leaders say schools don’t focus enough on civics…” Still, educators are finding different ways to incorporate civics in other curriculum areas. Continue reading →
Throughout history, technology has served as a driving force of human society. The advent of the internet and, subsequently, the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1990, altered how people interact with their environment, institutions, and each other. In the realm of education, this transformation has been no less profound. Technology and the ability to leverage electronic devices afford opportunities for improving and redesigning approaches to student learning. This is especially true within the context of civics education.
Technology that allows content to be distributed in an online format is often referred to as computer-assisted instruction (CAI). Generally, CAI products have a fixed structure and employ knowledge-based pedagogical approaches. Think of an online civics textbook that a student can digitally access, or a website, such as CampusActivism.org, that provides consumable content and allows the user to engage with interactive features (online discussion forums, social networks, etc.). Thus, CAI products can be extremely effective in civics education.
Victory’s Boston Massacre performance-task lesson serves as an excellent example of a CAI tool. The lesson engages students in critical thinking exercises and explores the complexities of this historical event. As performance tasks guide students through each lesson component, they are given the opportunity to interact directly with the content. Students can assign weights of importance to individuals’ actions preceding the event, highlight sections of primary source text representing biased language or perspective, and interpret visually represented data. Ultimately, the students produce a piece of original, unbiased writing describing what factors most contributed to the event and a critical analysis of why the event occurred.
CAI programs allow for a wide distribution of material and provide numerous opportunities for engaging students in civics instruction. However, different applications of technology offer additional forms of instruction and learning outcomes. Continue reading →
Thomas Jefferson once said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” Universal and timeless, Jefferson’s sentiment is especially relevant to our republic today. In a renewed focus on promoting civics education within the United States, students, teachers, and communities across the country are finding innovative ways to improve the quality of instruction, with the intent of cultivating the next generation of both leaders and involved citizens. Here are just a few examples of how they’re doing it.
Simulating the Democratic Process
A Junior Achievement program called BizTown® provides the opportunity for students to participate in a simulation of the democratic process. BizTown is a scaled-down city built for kids and designed to model many communities in America. It includes a bank, a medical clinic, television station, public utilities, and even a city hall. The simulation allows students to learn about voting in real-life scenarios as they take on active citizenship roles, such as business owners, consumers, and elected officials.
In Tucson, AZ, fifth graders from Senita Valley Elementary School use an 18-hour classroom program to introduce economic fundamentals, such as banking procedures and economic terms. Students then work together to raise money to pay for their virtual trip to BizTown. Upon arrival, the students engage in a democratic process to staff jobs and choose public officials required to run the town. They elect a mayor, appoint a CEO for each business, and pay taxes for the town’s public programs. Also, elections are held for sheriffs and judges. If a rule is broken, the offending party can hire a lawyer and present a case before one of the elected judges.
Senita Valley Elementary’s principal, Connie Erickson, says of the program, “All of our kids look forward to 5th grade and the BizTown experience.… We are always encouraging our kids to think about what they are doing for themselves, their community, and their world.” Continue reading →
As the student population in the United States has grown more diverse, educators have looked for more effective ways to handle the growing diversity in the academic and language needs of their students. Personalized learning —tailoring instruction to each student’s unique needs and learning preferences —is one approach that is getting a lot of attention.
Since 2012, 15 states have implemented policies to support personalized learning, ranging from waiving regulations to setting up innovation zones. But how have schools implemented personalized learning?
In its implementation, personalized learning has taken a multitude of forms. Schools are taking very different approaches in how the curricular materials are used, how the classrooms are organized, how the data are used to group students, and how “mastery” of subject matter is defined.
The Benefits of Personalized Learning
The common elements shared by personalized-learning models are a greater focus on meeting individual student needs and, to a lesser extent, keeping students on pace with grade-level standards. The benefits of focusing on the individual student are:
Students can work at their own pace on different subjects in the same classroom without impacting the learning of their peers. This allows a student to take the time to fully review and master a concept before moving on.
Learning gaps can be closed between students when each student gets customized instruction. All students now have the ability to work at their highest personal level of achievement.
Teachers and students are more fully engaged in the learning process. Students’ self-directed, independent learning allows teachers to have more one-on-one interactions with students. Teachers can take the time to talk with students, determine where they are academically, and tweak their learning plans so they can achieve maximum results.
As key states enter another round of adoptions, much of the market is in flux. The conflict over implementing the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), along with policy changes and the growing interest in digital content and new types of instruction are affecting the decisions that state education departments and schools are making about their instructional materials. States must decide what to adopt (textbooks, supplemental programs, digital products, or a combination of materials), while publishers need to determine what best practices and content states demand, including what standards to align to.
When the Common Core was first developed in 2010 to level the education playing field, it was adopted by forty-six states along with the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories. Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia did not adopt the CCSS. By the fall of 2017, ten more states dropped out (Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia) with a major standards rewrite or replacement, while Minnesota chose to adopt the Common Core only in English Language Arts.
Though thirty-six states are still using the CCSS, it is difficult to determine how uniform the application of the standards is across all the states. It is also not clear whether the revised standards that states are developing differ significantly from the Common Core. Interestingly, most of the states that never adopted the CCSS or later repealed them are also textbook adoption states. To further complicate the situation, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in a recent speech that Common Core is dead at the U.S. Department of Education.
A recent White House report states that the textbook market is valued at about $7-8 billion, with California, Florida, and Texas being the key adoption states. However, the textbook adoption market is changing.
The Old-School Textbook Adoption Buying Pattern
In the past, publishers focused most of their textbook development efforts on two states: Texas and California. Textbooks for these two states would often become templates for textbooks sold nationally, but according to a recent EdWeek article, California, and Texas no longer dictate content in textbooks. Currently, there are 19 states that adopt textbooks in a variety of curriculum areas, and publishers are finding that these individual states want customized textbooks.
What Factors are Driving Change in Textbook Adoption?