A Perfect and Completely Accurate Prediction About the Future of Science Education
by Peter A’Hearn
(updated December 14, 2011)
What will science education look in 5, 10, 20 years? I think we are in for a period of reinvention and experimentation. Technology is creating big changes in some schools and classrooms where the pioneers and the early adopters are finding out what is possible. But soon, technology is going to start to change the way we learn science in every classroom, at every school.
Two things got me thinking about this. One was a reading assignment for a technology training. This was the New Media Consortium 2011 Horizon report on technology in education. Read it at: www.cosn.org/horizon. In discussing the key challenges to developing the full potential of technology in education there is this, “A key challenge is the fundamental structure of the K-12 education establishment — aka “the system.” As long as maintaining the basic elements of the existing system remains the focus of efforts to support education, there will be resistance to any profound change in practice.”
The other was a meeting I was at where the Next Generation Science Standards were discussed. The Common Core Standards in Math and English will start to be tested in 2014 using the SMARTER Balanced test that will replace the current CST. The Next Generation Science Standards will not be far behind and they will represent a major change from the current standards. They emphasize that science “practices” (what we have been calling Investigation and Experimentation in California) be integrated with the teaching of content instead of being placed at the back of the standards with no explanation. At the meeting someone asked, “Are we going to be tested on new standards before we have the curriculum to teach to those new standards?” At that moment I realized that in the current budget environment, it will be difficult to find the money to adopt new textbooks, but there will be a pressing need for teachers to have new curriculum materials that give guidance to teaching the new standards. Now we all know that the end of the paper textbook is coming eventually, but this seems to push thus change into high gear.
What will textbooks be replaced with? Many districts have already figured out that giving each student a tablet reader is cheaper than buying five textbooks. But if the new curriculum is just textbooks on readers, then it will be a failure of imagination and vision. And as the horizon report says,” Students can take advantage of learning material online, through games and programs they may have on systems at home, and through their extensive — and constantly available — social networks.”
So my completely accurate prediction is that science education will change in significant ways. Other than that, here are some wild predictions, questions, and concerns. I am interested in hearing your questions, predictions, and concerns.
- The best curricula will link students to real data sources and allow for students in different schools in different parts of the country and the world to work together to gather data and analyze results.
- Some curricula will constantly adapt as new technologies become available. In a 7 year adoption, the basic framework will stay the same, but the methods of delivery, interaction, and assessment will change over the life of the adoption as technology introduces new possibilities.
- The structure of the school day and the classroom will fundamentally change. Much more of happens will happen independently and in small group structures. This will be the most difficult change, will take the longest time to happen, and will face the most resistance.
- Can open source textbooks, where many people edit and contribute have the conceptual coherency and “tightness”, that the best curricula have?
- With too many contributors and too many possibilities and sources of information, will they inevitably become too bloated to really give teachers guidance?
- I think there is great value in face to face discussion and problem solving.
- I worry that we will move too much collaboration and discussion into virtual environments. For example, there will be likely be a discussion thread of people responding to this article. I will over-think my replies and the process will drain my energy. I would much rather get together and brainstorm over a few beers.
The real world is located in the real world. Science is the study of nature- not of simulations of nature. It is tempting to replace the cost and management of real labs with computer simulations. I think this is a huge mistake. A simulation is a model and all models simplify the real thing. Looking through a real microscope is both much more difficult and also much more exciting than looking through a digital one. Students need to know that real science is messy, frustrating, unpredictable, and very rewarding.
Peter A’Hearn is the K-12 science specialist in the Palm Springs Unified School District and is region 4 director for CSTA.
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Responses from Readers:
Peter A’Hearn: Rush hour in little blue circle land.
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The election is being conducted electronically and opened for voting on April 16, 2013. Voting will close on May 16, 2013. All CSTA members were sent links to the online ballot. Members for whom we do not have current email addresses or who request a paper ballot have been mailed a ballot and candidate statements. Learn More…