A front-page article in this weekend's Philadelphia Inquirer Report Card on the Schools contains yet another rhapsody about the virtues of the hands-on science classroom:
In the new science classroom, teachers still offer instruction, but in smaller doses. Lab work and treks outdoors are now integral to elementary and middle school instruction.Too bad no one is listening to Dan Willingham, a cognitive scientist specializing in education who argues that there's an important difference between the brains of experts (e.g., scientists) and novices (e.g., k12 students) and that k12 science education should focus not on creating and testing theories of natural phenomena, but on the comprehension of scientific knowledge.
"We're engaging kids more in the process of science, not just the content," said Paul Joyce, science supervisor in the West Chester district.
This is learning science by doing science, a change in instruction that is costing schools time and money, yet is fast gaining traction as educators heed warnings that the economic health of the region - and the nation - demands a science- and tech-savvy workforce.
In Willingham's words:
Does this mean we shouldn’t ask students to... conduct a scientific experiment? Of course not. But we should understand the difference between the thought processes of experts and novices.Instead of heeding Willingham's advice--advice that is backed by scientific experiments constructed by experts--more and more schools are sacrificing the comprehension of knowledge imparted by experts for science experiments constructed by novices.
The Inquirer article goes on to state that schools are giving high priority to math education:
At the high school level, nearly a third of the 160 public high schools in South Jersey and suburban Philadelphia now require four years of college-prep science or math - or both - for graduation. That's one year more than the states mandate.Unfortunately, the predominance of Cookbook Math (with all its guessing and checking and plugging in numbers rather than understanding concepts, manipulating symbols, and proving theorems) and Reform Math (with its watered-down, feel-good curriculum) means that math in general, and Algebra I in particular, are no longer what they once were. Regardless of the names we assign to the courses students take, our average high school graduate has learned far less actual math than her counterpart a generation ago.
And large percentages of students in many schools are entering ninth grade already having taken Algebra I.
While there is progress, there is far to go: Results of the 2009 science assessments in Pennsylvania and New Jersey show high achievement in fourth grade but numerous low scorers in eighth and 11th grades, even in some of the region's top-performing schools.What do the 4th grade results matter if the gains are lost by 11th grade?