Evidence Based Science Education

This blog will examine research and evidence as it relates to science education and science education issues. It is an attempt to bring together the science of education and the practice of education.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Assessment and Testing. What does the research say?

We have all heard the catch phrases against testing such as “we are testing our students to death” or that our schools have become “a culture of testing”. But what does research say about students in terms of testing and learning? The answer may surprise you.

Testing not only assesses what students have learned, testing enhances student learning. That’s right! Testing it turns out can be a learning experience itself. A Study published in Memory by Karpicke indicates that repeated testing was MORE effective than repeated studying for information retrieval. Our brains work by making neural connections. Every time a particular neural pathway is used, that pathway or connections is strengthened, making it more likely for that person to remember it in the future.

Beyond that they found that even when students get the wrong answer on a test that it enhances learning. It is thought this works for a couple of reasons. Test questions can help activate prior knowledge and let students know what is important. So it helps focus attention and effort.

Studies find that “People remember things better, longer, if they are given very challenging tests on the material, tests at which they are bound to fail” (Roediger, 2009). The key to this is that the students have to get feedback on the correct answer in a timely manner.

How can teachers use this? As hard as it is for some to believe, teachers should be giving more, harder tests to students, especially more pre-tests and more formative tests. But the tasks must be relevant and students must receive timely feedback on their performance on these tasks.

Under the right conditions testing is good for our brains, and good for learning.

Read more at http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=getting-it-wrong and http://www.williams.edu/Psychology/Faculty/Kornell/Publications/Richland.Kornell.Kao.2009.pdf

Thursday, December 17, 2009

10 things you can do to improve student outcomes

At the recent Colorado Science Conference I did a presentation on “10 things you can do to improve student achievement”. I have always been interested in what the best ways to engage students with knowledge are and how to ensure that students retain that knowledge. A combination of combing research and personal experience using various techniques; I have come up with this list of 10 strategies to improve student achievement.

1.Science study should involve doing science, that is questioning and discovering, not just covering material.

2.A Limited, judicious use of information giving. Students should only receive information in 10 minute time frames with time to then process and apply what they have learned.

3.Students should explore fewer topics in depth, not skim many superficially.

4.Develop a clear, coherent, science content storyline.

5.Integrate and teach how scientists read, write, speak, and do math.

6.Provide applications of science and technology.

7.Teacher use of Formative Assessments to guide instruction and improvement rather than to assign blame.

8.Interactive engagement of students (Students Are Intellectually Engaged with Important Ideas Relevant to the Focus of the Lesson).

9.Science is shown as a dynamic body of knowledge.

10.Sufficient time for Sense-Making.

• Weiss and the Horizon research group
• TIMSS Video study
• Brain based teaching
• Linking science and literacy
• Use of Formative Assessments
• Brain Considerate Classrooms

Friday, December 4, 2009

Active Learning

One of the things that most, if not all research, on education agrees on it is that learning must be active. But what does this mean? How do the revised Colorado science standards encourage active engagement of students?

Active engagement of students means that students have to interact with knowledge in a deep and meaningful way, instead of being the passive recipient of knowledge. For our brains to function best, they must engage new thoughts and ideas within our current knowledge and most importantly make connections to that knowledge. This is where active engagement comes in. Does this does not mean that teachers should never give students an answer, have them read from a book or from the web, or lecture? No, these techniques have their place in our schools and classrooms, it is the amount of information the students are supposed to process, how long students are supposed to concentrate, and what you have students do with the knowledge afterward that makes the difference.

Exposing students to an idea or having them hear about an idea does not necessarily engage the brain and make the necessary neural connection for the idea to have meaning and for the idea to be “internalized”. For this to happen students need to time to talk about the idea or to explore the idea further either through a hands-on experience or through a simulation. Then students’ understanding of the idea or concept needs to be challenged with thought provoking questions or situations that challenge the idea. Students need to see evidence that the idea is true or that works in multiple situations. The key is that students must be involved in meaningful ways.

There are many tried and true education techniques that get at active engagement such as inquiry learning, hand on activities, field trips, problem based learning, project based learning, think, pair, share, using essential questions, researching and writing, concept mapping, class discussions and Socratic seminars as well as some new ones like using “clicker” questions in class and computer simulations. Like any education tool or technique there are appropriate and inappropriate uses for any these, and just because you use one of these techniques does not guarantee students are actively engaged.

The new Colorado science standards not only support active learning by students but require students to be actively engaged in meaningful ways to master content. Wording in the evidence outcomes of the standards such as: “Students will develop, communicate, and justify an evidence based explanation...” or “Students will gather, analyze and interpret data on…” require that students have deep understanding of concepts that only comes with active cognitive engagement with those ideas. When students are actively engaged in learning students they use higher order thinking skills and they retain more information. Active engagement make learning more fun so students typically enjoy active engagement cutting down on discipline problems.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Grade level standards

One of the bigger changes in the draft standards for science for Colorado is the move to grade level standards grades K-8. In 2007 CDE commissioned WestEd to do a review of the Colorado State standards and compare them to other states and countries. As part of this review WestEd looked at who is doing grade level vs grade span standards and found that many high achieving states and countries such as Virginia and Finland specify their standards by grade level.

The State School Board, based on WestEds review and on advice from the Stakeholders Group on Standards, charged the various standards development subcommittees to write grade level standards P – 8 that reflect mastery. It was the decision of sub-committee to let the age and development level appropriateness of the topics dictate where they were placed in the P – 8 standards instead of forcing a grade level placement through themes or connections. This decision was made because it was right for the content and because the idea of making grade level themes or even having life, Earth, and physical at different grade levels seemed to move more into curriculum than being true to the developmental appropriateness of the content.

The draft content standards are designed to show when students should master a concept in science and therefore be ready to progress toward understanding the Prepared Graduate Competencies, in this way they were designed to be a teaching progression and not a mandate for what is taught at each grade, which is the job of curriculum developers.

As we move out of the standards development phase and into the standards implementation phase, we are now looking for the connections between those standards that will help teachers when implementing them.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Race to the Top

I am sure most of you have heard about the Race to the Top. It is a competitive grant offered by the U.S. Department of Education to states and could be worth upwards of $400 million for Colorado for education.

Under the guidelines of the grant half the money would go to the districts and the other half would be used by the state. The Race to the top has four assurance areas: Standards and Assessment, data systems, teacher effectiveness, and low performing schools. In addition to these four assurance areas extra points will be awarded to applications that also have a STEM focus.

One of the stated goals of the Race to the Top is to take the pockets of excellence in public education and take those ideas or programs to scale across the state. Currently we are looking for the best ideas of what is happening in STEM education for inclusion in the Race to the Top application. Ideas are being submitted to http://groups.google.com/group/stem-affinity-group.

All submissions should include:
Point of Contact for this Recommendation;

Name of person or group that makes this recommendation (e.g. individual, sub-committee, committee or other);

A brief description the recommendation;

A description of what a participating district needs to do to implement the recommendation (e.g., implement an evaluation system, train teachers how to use data, or report certain data);

A description of what the state needs to do to implement the recommendation (e.g., implement new assessments, create program evaluation criteria, or develop a data system);

A description of what other stakeholders in the education system (e.g., early childhood educators, teacher preparers, community colleges, colleges and universities, the workforce system, etc), need to do to implement this recommendation;

A description of how funds from the R2T grant are to be used to support this recommendation;

An estimate of how much money from the R2T grant should be invested in this reform and what the on-going costs after theR2T grant funds expire will be and how they will be sustained;

A description of the evidence that this recommendation will improve student outcomes (e.g. research, evidence of best practice, examples of places where this reform has been implemented);

Does Colorado have any assets to support this reform (e.g. existing pilots of this reform in some schools/districts, laws or regulations supporting this reform, experts in this reform area, etc)?

Get your ideas in as soon as possible!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

National Science Standards?

As anyone who follows what is going on nationally in language arts and math education can tell you, an effort known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative is working to craft common academic standards across states. Colorado has signed a memorandum of understanding to help develop these common standards, but has not necessarily agreed to adopt them. With what we have seen of the language arts and math standards so far, Colorado’s draft state standards revisions align fairly closely with the proposed common core.

Of course we already have National Science Standards. These were written by the National Resource Council and have been informing science education for a decade. In addition to the National Science Standards AAAS produced it own set of science standards with a series of publications such as, Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the Atlas for Science Literacy. So what’s new?

Recent research from the National Academies, in Taking Science to School and other publications, has criticized the current national science standards for not being specific enough to be a practical guide to teachers in the classroom. In response to this and based on a call from its members, NSTA launched the Science Anchors project, to create a more streamlined set of standards for science it called anchors. This effort has been in partnership with Achieve and they hoped to bring in NRC, and AAAS to the effort.

It was under this backdrop that the common core effort by the National Governor’s Association (NGA) and the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) came on the scene. Now leaders from NSTA, NRC, AAAS, and others are having discussions with the folks from NGA/CCSSO about science. The desire is to merge the anchors effort with the common core. But first the common core folks want to make sure they get math and language arts well under way before taking on other subject areas. Current estimates around a common core in science put any substantial product from this effort about two years out.

Monday, October 12, 2009

21st Century Skills and Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness

According to SB212 the revised Colorado Academic standards must reflect 21st century skills and Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness (PWR). After a tour to gather input from people all over Colorado, five 21st century skills were identified as critical for Colorado students. These are: Critical Thinking, Information Literacy, Collaboration, Self Direction, and Invention. One might rightfully ask “what is so 21st century about these skills?” These are skills that Aristotle and Socrates might recognize. The difference is now everyone needs these skills to be successful. In today’s society where we have universal suffrage for all citizens who want to vote and where increasingly important decisions about one’s life are left up to the individual instead of the government or someone’s employer these skills are critical. But many of these changes happened 30, 40, 50 or more years ago and still we did not emphasize these skills for all. What has changed in the 21st century is that these are also the skills that work force is demanding. Factory workers are now expected to problem solve and work collaboratively, retail store personnel must have self direction and invention. I highly recommend that everyone check out the books The World is Flat and The Global Achievement Gap as these give an excellent glimpse into the work place and world of today and the world we are preparing students for tomorrow.

In addition to 21st century skills a PWR definition was also crafted for Colorado by CDE in conjunction with CDHE based on a public input tour. They broke this into two parts, one content based and the other skill based. On the content side for science the definition is:
• Think scientifically and apply the scientific method to complex systems and phenomena
• Use empirical evidence to draw conclusions
• Recognize conclusions are subject to interpretation and can be challenged
• Understand the core scientific concepts, principles, laws, and vocabulary, and how scientific knowledge is extended, refined, and revised over time

As for skills PWR is defined by:
Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving
• Apply logical reasoning and analytical skills
• Evaluate the credibility and merit of information, ideas, and arguments
• Discern bias, pose questions, marshal evidence, and present solutions
Find and Use Information/Information Technology
• Assess the credibility and relevance of information
• Conduct research using acceptable research methods
• Apply different research paradigms, including the collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data and research
• Select, integrate, and apply appropriate technology to expand information and knowledge
Creativity and Innovation
• Demonstrate intellectual curiosity
• Generate new ideas and novel approaches
• Develop new connections where none previously existed
Global and Cultural Awareness
• Appreciate the arts, culture, and humanities
• Interact effectively with and respect the diversity of different individuals, groups, and cultures
• Recognize the interdependent nature of our world
Civic Responsibility
• Practice civic responsibility and citizenship
• Balance personal freedom with the interests of a community
Work Ethic
• Set priorities and manage time
• Take initiative, and follow through
• Learn from instruction and criticism
• Take responsibility for actions and work
• Act with maturity, civility, and politeness
Personal Responsibility
• Act assertively
• Be a self-advocate
• Possess financial literacy and awareness of consumer economics
• Behave honestly and ethically
• Read, write, listen and speak effectively
• Construct clear, coherent, and persuasive arguments
• Be a team player
• Acknowledge authority and take direction
• Cooperate for a common purpose

As you can see there is a lot of overlap between the 21st century skills and PWR.

The future of education in Colorado is going to be shaped by these two definitions. Already the CDE is piloting PWR assessments and the next generation of CSAP will reflect these skills as well, since they will be part of the new standards.

How do you see these two impacting science education in Colorado?

How does science help students develop 21st century skills and PWR?

What support do you think you need to implement these in your district, school, or classroom?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Standards Revision
Where are we? How did we get there? Where are we going?

The revision of Colorado’s Science standards continues to move forward. During the public comment period in May and June the science standards were out for public review for 5 weeks, CDE conducted a nine city tour and we received over 600 individual comments on the first draft of the science standards. The science standards subcommittee looked at every comment and decided whether or not to take action based on that comment. Currently the updated draft of the science standards, along with the draft standards for reading, writing and communicating, math, music, and social studies are being looked at by the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at UCLA. They are looking at the horizontal and vertical alignment of the standards both within each discipline and between disciplines. The next draft is expected to be posted for public viewing in Early September.

The revision of the Colorado Model Content Standards was based on several premises. It started with recognition by the Colorado Department of Education that many of our current standards were over 10 years old and that past decade has provided a wealth of research in standards based education. It was also driven by public focus groups convened by the Colorado Department of Education that sent a clear message that Colorado students were lacking many skills that are essential in the 21st century workplace. Ensuring that students develop these 21st century skills was another driving force in revising the standards. It was also realized that there was a disconnect between early childhood education, K-12 education, and higher education in the state. The creation of the Colorado P-20 council moved the conversation forward in aligning these three systems. The Colorado State Legislature took notice of these various trends and studies in passing Senate Bill 212 or the Cap4Kids legislation that provide a legal basis as well as resources for Colorado to revise all of its content standards in 2009 with the goal of integrating 21st century skills, ensuring post secondary workforce readiness, and making the standards fewer, clearer, and higher.

The standards review was undertaken with a look toward the latest research in standards based education. The most common message from the research is that national organizations and states have too many standards which creates the situation that teachers have to pick and choose which are important. Hence the goal of fewer big grade level topics.

In What Works in Schools Robert Marzano finds that the most important school level factor for student success is having a “Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum”. President Bush termed this the “soft bigotry of low expectations” for poor and minority students. One of the goals of the revision of the Colorado Content Standards is to provide a base of rigorous standards in both content and skills that leads to a guaranteed and viable curriculum for every district, school and student in the state, hence the clearer and higher goals of the standards review.
Like good standards based teaching, the process for revising the standards began with the end mind, that every graduate from a Colorado high school should be ready to enter higher education, the workforce, the military, or other options without remediation. These are incorporated into the Colorado description of postsecondary and workforce readiness. This description along with Colorado’s definition for 21st century skills provided the big picture end in mind for the standards revision. The science subcommittee then followed the model from Understanding by Design by Wiggins and McTighe in determining the few essential to know topics specifically for science for every high school graduate. These are:

• Observe, explain, and predict natural phenomena governed by Newton's Laws of Motion acknowledging the limitations of their application to very small or very fast objects.
• Apply an understanding of atomic and molecular structure to explain the properties of matter and predict outcomes of chemical and nuclear reactions.
• Apply an understanding that energy exists in various forms and its transformation and conservation occur in processes that are predictable and measurable.
• Analyze the relationship between structure and function in living systems at a variety of organizational levels.
• Explain and demonstrate how living systems interact with the biotic and abiotic environment.
• Analyze how various organisms grow, develop, and differentiate during their lifetimes based on an interplay between genetics and their environment.
• Explain how biological evolution accounts for the unity and diversity of living organisms.
• Describe and interpret how Earth's geologic history and place in space are relevant to our understanding of the processes that have shaped our planet.
• Evaluate evidence that Earth’s geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere interact as a complex system.
• Describe how humans are dependent on the diversity of resources provided by the Earth and Sun.

From these prepared graduate competencies the committee went on to develop mastery standards at every grade level. The committee used available research such as the National Science Education Standards, Benchmarks for Science Literacy, Atlas of Science Literacy, Systems for States Science Assessment, and Taking Science to School as well as their own professional experience and judgment to determine a sequence of learning outcomes that build toward each of the prepared graduate competencies. These mastery level standards are written with the RtI model in mind, that 80% of students should achieve mastery at the specified grade level without intervention. The committee was conscientious about how much time teachers at various levels have to teach science and made a concerted effort not to overload any grade, again ensuring mastery of the few essential elements.

The science standards committee borrowed extensively from the current Colorado Model Content Standards for Science, with many of the grade level expectations in the draft science standards being identical to those currently in use. Where the draft differs significantly is by cutting down the number of expectations so that teachers can teach topics in more depth, embedding process and skills with the science content so that science skills are taught within the context of science content, and giving greater specificity about what a student should be able to do once they have mastered a topic. The new standards also suggest questions that teachers can use to go deeper into a topic and facilitate discussions in their classroom, as well as examples of applications to society and technology of the standards that teachers can use to help motivate and inspire students about the topic. Another feature was embedding the nature of science into the content standard. The draft standards were also built around many research based teaching practices in science such as the active engagement of students and using an inquiry approach to science.
The State Board of Education will have a public hearing on the draft science standards in November and will vote on adopting them in December.

The Colorado Department of Education is currently working on setting up a system of accountability and support around the new standards to assist districts, schools, and teachers in the implementation process. This system will provide support to all teachers around the state though web portals, webinars, links to resource information, supplemental materials including implementation guides and formative and summative assessment prompts, the sharing of model curriculum and instruction practices, and teacher training. Colorado Department of Education is looking to partner with districts, schools, teachers, and institutions of Higher Education in preparing this system of support looking for model programs and curriculum for the standards that follows the standards based teaching and learning cycle.

Click here to see the new standards template.

I will be available for an on-line chat at ____ to answer questions about the science standards review process.