|The Future of Secondary Education|
The High School Science Classroom of the Future
Florida Department of Education. (1995). Science for All Students: The Florida Pre K-12 Science Curriculum Framework. (Tallahassee, FL: Author), p. 37.
Science classrooms of the next decade will no longer separate subject matter by grade level. They will not dictate that all 10 graders must take biology to the exclusion of the physical and earth/space sciences. Mathematics will become a central component of all science classes. Other school subjects will also find their place in science classes.
The new standards from AAAS and NAS call for integration of the life and physical sciences, especially in the middle grades. Furthermore, science is to be part of a larger tapestry of all school subjects, especially mathematics, language arts, and social studies. This implies a need for students to think horizontally and to apply knowledge and skills in science that they have learned in other subjects. This also points to a need for teachers to work together in teams to plan and execute a curriculum based on common themes, communication, social needs, and mathematical tools. Examples include exploration of energy conversions, and what fossil fuel combustion means to our culture. Students would write about this, interview power plant employees, learn to read electric meters and calculate electric bills, examine rate structures and interview utility Boards of Directors, and study the laws of thermodynamics. A wide variety of subject matter would be explored during several days or even weeks of study. Bringing information into class discussions would be expected of each student (Roth, 1992). Students will use the Internet to discover resources and others' ideas in reaction to their own. Informal learning in museums and nature centers will enrich classroom science (Natural Science for Youth Foundation, 1990).
The Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy (1993) and many state science frameworks call for integration of mathematics and science, beginning in the earliest grades. The NSTA Scope and Sequence program (1993) calls for the introduction of physics to sixth grade students, and expansion of each concept in subsequent grades. Concrete, manipulative materials that exercise students' thinking in force and motion will be a prelude to later, more abstract study of friction, vectors, and Newton's laws. Seniors will be better prepared for calculus-based physics if they have been guided in exploring physics concepts in earlier grades.
A good example of an integrated science curriculum is the program developed at the University of Alabama by Star Bloom and Larry Rainey for use throughout the state of Alabama (Bloom & Rainey, 1994). This middle school curriculum consists of (a) weekly telecasts featuring scientists, students, and teachers engaging in activities that focus on the topic of the week; (b) classroom cooperative group activities emphasizing hands-on encounters with real world problems; and (c) student handbooks with additional background material that relates science to everyday events in student environments.
In the past, science classes in most schools were interrupted by scheduled bells at 55-minute intervals. Teachers are surely the only professionals who must perform their job within such arbitrary time blocks. Despite their need to set up, conduct and clear away laboratories and demonstrations, science teachers are allocated the same time as shop, gym, or algebra teachers. Schools in 2005 will have alternatives that offer extended time for science learning.
Blocks of time will exceed the traditional 55 minute class hour, allowing science teachers to perform laboratory experiments and demonstrations with their students, to examine the resulting implications, and to explore the extensions of thinking that should follow. In place of the traditional series of six, 55-minute classes, future schools will offer modular schedules, with a full year of credit offered for a semester of these double-long class periods. Such schedules will provide science teachers with opportunities to extend project work, field trips, and inquiry learning. There will be a distinction between allocated time and actual academic learning time. Non-academic disruptions of academic time will be reduced to maimize time on task. Schedules for science classes will be adjusted in response to questions like: How much can be "covered" in the allocated time?; Does "seat time" imply meaningful learning?; Do Carnegie units indicate real conceptual understanding and mastery of skills that are useful in the world outside the classroom?
Exploring fewer topics in greater depth and for longer daily class periods will be the earmark of future science classrooms. This issue is explored in a report issued by the National Education Commission on Time and Learning (1994). The report offers eight recommendations for reinventing the school schedule to provide more time for student academic learning.
The real world rarely puts people in isolation and asks them to come up with solutions without consulting others. Schools are finally moving toward cooperative learning groups in science classes. Three or four students of mixed ability are each assigned unique tasks within the team and helped to master the social skills required by these tasks. Just as athletic teams succeed when the entire team functions well, so science learning proceeds best when each team member feels responsible for the success of both individuals and the group. Typical roles in cooperative teams include (a) the questioner, who asks what is known, what needed information is missing, how to proceed to obtain what is needed to solve the problem, and how certain the team is of its conclusions; (b) the record keeper, who maintains a written summary of what has been given, what has been acquired, graphs, tables, and preliminary conclusions; (c) the materials organizer, who sees that calculators, lab equipment, supplies are at hand and put away when they are no longer needed.
Roger and David Johnson describe the unique advantages of cooperative group learning in science in their chapter of the National Education Association publication, Education in the 80's: Science (1982).
Technology will offer exciting new options for science teachers and their students. Links to high-speed microcomputers will open a wide variety of channels to meet almost every learning style. Virtual reality is already being tested in secondary school science classrooms (Moshell & Hughes, 1993). Three-dimensional projections of simulated reality will become more common as tools to help students "experience" space, time and motion in controlled states. Thus, a student can simulate weightlessness, or friction-free motion, or an Earth-centered universe as easily as opening a window. Trying out these environments in virtual reality will make facilitate learning and make group and class discussions more much more interesting. Students will use personal "think-pads" to do calculations, obtain tutoring help, and keep up with schedules.
Graphical display panels will be built into classroom walls, and used to show high-resolution color video sequences that are keyed to textbooks and curricular guides. Overhead projectors will be fitted with liquid crystal display panels that connect with classroom computers to make a "dynamic chalkboard" for the classroom. Static and dynamic visuals will be available on videodisk for science teachers to use to show single- or multiple-concept topics. Three-dimensional displays will allow rich discussions of physiology, collisions in space, and molecular geometry. These displays will make it possible for science classes to take field trips to any location on the planet and examine plants and animals there.
The microcomputer-based laboratory will be expanded from its current state of monitoring temperature, light intensity, pH, and motion. To these parameters will be added new variables, such as population of humans on Earth, metabolic rate of selected students, location and direction of hurricanes, historical frequency and location of earthquakes, somatic cellular activity, solar flux onto the school, and many others. Current events will be exhibited in new ways that facilitate better understanding and learning.
The science textbook will change. Universal bar codes on each page will allow students and teachers to use bar-code readers to access videodisk sequences that make each page come alive. Textbook publishers will provide computer programs to accompany each major topic. Hypertext and multimedia materials will make true self-paced learning possible for all students. Self-help features will mean that students can receive assistance without depending as much on the teacher. Role models will include all gender and ethnic groups. Each chapter will have imbedded assessment activities for individual students, small groups, and whole class testing. Toll-free numbers to publisher hot-lines will allow teachers to request customized tests over any topic from large banks of questions, many of which embody higher levels of thinking.
In the movie, "Apollo 13," the ground crew and astronauts were required to come up with solutions to a series of unrehearsed problems by applying science, engineering and common sense to their situation. They worked out their problems by breaking out of the mold; they could not check the "right answer" in the back of the book. Their success is a tribute to scientific problem-solving in America, and may represent a high water mark in technical education. There is a wealth of data to indicate that a generation of our science students are losing this ability to solve open-ended problems by inventing solutions. This points to a need to change the way we teach and learn science. Because the way we assess outcomes in science classes tends to drive the way we teach it, the classroom of the future will evaluate realistic situations that require application of science concepts, principles and theories. Assessment of student outcomes in science will be imbedded in a realistic framework so that students are not merely provided prompts and expected to pick the "best" answer from a set of multiple-choice options, or to choose the "best match" from a set of related terms, or to indicate whether a statement is true or false.
In the real world, careers provide a series of inputs (givens) and require a creative application of theories and principles to derive a solution that makes sense in the context of the problem. There are not many employment opportunities for high school graduates whose problem-solving skills are limited to completing worksheets and turning them in for grading. Therefore, assessment will be imbedded in realistic situations that can be found outside the classroom.
Assessment can easily be made a part of classroom activities based on realistic simulations. Computer simulations have been around for years. In biology, students practice managing the population of a deer herd in a residential area in the computer program "Oh, Deer" (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium, 1983). Students play roles as homeowners, farmers, hunters, and "deer lovers" in a computer simulation that requires a higher level of thinking than completing blanks on a test. In a more recent videodisk simulation (Rescue at Boone's Meadow, 1992), students work in cooperative teams to locate essential bits of information necessary to rescue a wounded eagle from a remote area using an ultralight airplane. Solving the problem requires getting the eagle to a veterinarian in the shortest possible time, and uses a variety of mathematics and inquiry skills. Developed at the Vanderbilt Learning Technology Center, this "Jasper Woodbury Series" allows teachers to observe students applying concepts learned in class. Success takes careful planning and application of science and mathematics concepts more challenging than knowing isolated facts such as that eagles are raptors. Other inquiry-based authentic assessment packages are being developed and field tested now (McColskey & O'Sullivan, 1993). Project work, reports, laboratory practicals, and science olympiads will become more common assessment tools. Look for them in science classrooms of the future (Scarnati, 1994; Herman, Aschbacher, & Winters, 1992).
Students will be invited to take a more active role in determining what they know and do in science learning environments. Concept and skill self-inventories will be administered to students at the beginning of new units. In completing such inventories, students will encounter new as well as familiar terms and ideas, and see a preview of what they are expected to know at the end of the unit. Use of concept mapping, Venn diagrams, analysis of research reports, and Vee diagrams will help teachers and students evaluate science learning. Students will be expected to maintain portfolios that contain evidence of their skills, the quality of their writing, reflective thoughts on their personal strengths and weaknesses, and goals. A few states such as Vermont are already moving toward portfolio assessment for all students. While this type of assessment requires more time than machine scoring a multiple-choice test, it provides a richer record of students' abilities. It also places responsibility on students to examine their progress over time and to take pride in personal growth.
New national standards and benchmarks require that students be placed in situations where they are given parameters of a problem and invited to propose solutions. Students are now expected to do more than respond to pre-written prompts on tests. The real test of America's skills is how well we can apply our knowledge of science and technology to raw materials so that value is added and the resulting product can be sold competitively in the world market. For this question there are no answers in the back of the book!
Table 2 provides a summary of changes in assessment of science classroom learning (Doran, Tamir and Chan, 1995).
Predicted Trends in Measurement and Evaluation of Science Instruction
Doran, R. L., Tamir, P. & Chan, A. (1995) Assessment in Science. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association. pp. 17-18.
Look into a science classroom of the year 2005. Instead of seats arranged in rows and columns, you will find students sitting in a circle or in pods as they discuss whole class or small group topics. Computers will be available, equipped with modems to link the classroom with the Internet. Videodisc and videotape equipment will be used for viewing linear and random access sequences. Live animals, models, simulations, and collections of student work will be a part of the scenery. An open-door policy will invite visitors to join for observation or participation. Use of outside resources such as museums, nature centers, state and national parks will enrich the curriculum.
The day will begin with teachers meeting together for team planning on how groups of students will move through the day. There will be less dependence on bells to dictate the daily schedule. Textbooks will be used as reference sources for information, but will not be the sole or even primary source. Access to electronically-stored information will be easy. Compact discs and remote databases available on the Internet will offer students and teachers current data on global and local systems. Assessment will be ongoing, and built into small-group discussions. For a period of weeks, the whole class will deal with themes like matter and energy, force and motion, patterns and change. More emphasis will be placed on current events, with television broadcasts used to augment class discussions.
Students will end the school day at different times and with less enthusiasm than in the past. Project work, team cooperation, higher levels of inquiry, and the stimulation of interactive technology will raise the motivation of students to apply science in their own cognitive world. Dinner table conversations and talk in school hallways will include more science. This will increase the scientific literacy of high school students, and contribute to our skills in the world economy. Americans have always believed in the future. We have applied science and technology to adapt our environment. Every generation must redefine the future and relearn the values, tools, and principles that will influence it. We have the tools and the principles have not changed. It is the values that we struggle with.
American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.
Bloom, S. and Rainey, L. (1994). Integrated science. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama.
Doran, R. L., Tamir, P. & Chan, A. (1995) Assessment in science. Arlington, VA: National Science Teachers Association.
Florida Department of Education. (1995). Science for all students: The Florida pre K-12 science curriculum framework. .Tallahassee, FL: Author.
Herman, J., Aschbacher, P. & Winters, L. (1992). A practical guide to alternative assessment. . Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Johnson, R.T. and Johnson, D.W. (1982). What research says about student-student interaction in science classrooms. In M. B. Rowe (Ed.), Education in the 80's: Science. Washington, DC: National Education Association.
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McColskey, W. and O'Sullivan, R. (1993). How to assess student performance in science: Going beyond multiple-choice tests. Greensboro, NC: Southeastern Regional Vision for Education.
Moshell, J.M. and Hughes, C.E. (1993). Shared virtual worlds for education. In Proceedings: 4th Annual Virtual Reality Conference and Exposition. San Jose, CA.
National Academy of Sciences. (1994). National science education standards. Washington, DC: Author.
National Education Commission on Time and Learning. (1994). Prisoners of time (Stock #065-00000640-5). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
National Science Teachers Association. (1993). Scope, sequence, & coordination: The content core. Arlington, VA: Author.
Natural Science for Youth Foundation. (1990). Natural science centers: directory. ERIC Document Retrieval Service No. ED 319 619. Also available from: Natural Science for Youth Foundation, 130 Azalea Drive, Roswell, GA 30075 ($49.95 plus $3.50 shipping and handling).
Oh, Deer! [Computer software]. (1983). St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium.
Rescue at Boone's Meadow [Optical media]. (1992). Learning Technology Center. Warren, NJ: Optical Data Corp.
Roth, W. M. (1992). Bridging the gap between school and real life: Toward an integration of science, mathematics, and technology in the context of authentic practice. School Science and Mathematics, 92 (6), 307-317.
Scarnati, J. T. (1994). Interview with a wild animal: Integrating science and language arts. Middle School Journal, 25 (4), 3-6.
U. S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment. (1995). Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection, OTA-EHR-616 (Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office).