Ideas for how best to teach science change regularly as we attempt to improve science education and keep up with the changing needs of our students. Presented here is what we believe to be the current thoughts on how best to approach this difficult task.
The two frameworks that apply to teachers in California (where our curricula is being tested) are the California Science Frameworks and the National Science Education Standards. A brief summary appears below with the intention of not duplicating material common to both.
National Science Education Standards:
- Inquiry based
- Developed across grade & subject levels
- Relevant to students
- Coordinate with math
- Molecular basis of heredity
- Matter, energy, and organization
- Patterns of change
- Scale & structure
- Systems & interactions
The knowledge base in the sciences changes very rapidly. To teach just facts would do our students a disservice. Our text books can be up to 10 years out of date. Instead, it is thought that teaching students how to access information and how to solve problems would be a better strategy for success. This is mirrored in the demands of industry. The "grunt" jobs are being shipped overseas, the thinking jobs are here for the taking. It is expected by the year 2000 that 70% of all jobs in the United States will require at least 2 years of college. This brings us to the concept of learning levels.
The most commonly used description of learning levels is Bloom's Taxonomy (ranked from primary skills to more sophisticated thinking levels):
- Knowledge -- just the facts, repeated as the teacher presented them
- Comprehension -- repeating facts, but in their own words
- Application -- using facts & skills in an activity
- Analysis -- ability to pull the facts & skills apart and see how/why it works
- Evaluation -- to "judge" by using defined criteria
- Synthesis - to come up with an entirely new idea or way of doing something (at least to the student)
- Metacognition -- to be able to think about the thinking that went on
The more challenging levels usually require performance based, more subjective exams, to evaluate. It is possible to write a multiple choice exam to test higher levels, but this is very difficult, requires practice and should not exclude performance based evaluation.
TIP: Many textbook companies provide test banks that can be used to create objective tests that help test students at each of the above levels. The best test banks actually provide an analysis of each question based on Bloom's taxonomy and on its degree of difficulty.
The levels should be thought of as a pyramid with knowledge being the largest section at the base. Without a strong base of knowledge the higher levels become impossible or irrelevant. At the same time, especially in the sciences, we strive to teach the critical thinking skills necessary at the higher levels.
Many educators have covered learning styles in detail. We all learn in slightly different ways. It is important to reach all of your students and to remember that they do not all learn the same way we do. See:
- Brain Based Learning, by Eric Jensen
- Frames of Mind, by Howard Gardner
- Seven Kinds of Smart, by Thomas Armstrong
- 4 - MAT in Action, The 4-MAT System, by Bernice McCarthy
Thought: have you ever noticed that colleges select for students who do well under the lecture format? Those who can get information and retain it in a lecture will be the ones who aspire to and succeed in becoming the next generation of professors who will then use the lecture format on their students, perpetuating the system. Is this what we want in a professor? [And, how many high school and middle school teachers do the same thing?]
Math In Biology
"So far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain. And so far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality."
"There are really only two numbers in biology, one and two. And I am not so sure about two."
The use of math in chemistry and physics is straightforward. In biology the numbers simply do not work out to 2 or 3 place accuracy most of the time. Experiments that work one day, may not the next, or at least will result in slightly different values. Life is fuzzy, requiring a softer approach to numbers. Math is, however, essential to the biologist and is used extensively.
Each teacher/instructor has a different style and knowledge/skill base. The lessons presented are a starting point for designing your own. We have attempted to present the material in a logical and orderly manner. More information and activities are presented than can be accomplished in one or two class periods. Only you know how much your students should attempt and what skills they will need. We feel it is better to have too much prepared than not enough. Partial use of some lessons will be valuable if time is limited.
This project provides teachers lesson plans and resources to complement existing biology curricula emphasizing critical thinking and knowledge gathering skills. Activities are provided that give students the opportunity to work with organisms used in research that provide a hands-on model of living systems. These sea urchin studies give students laboratory experiences that review gametes and fertilization, cell division, embryology, and environmental concerns. Also provided are support lessons that develop skills necessary for successful completion of the primary laboratory activities.
John Nightingale, a photography teacher, once said, "I do not teach photography. Most of my students will not develop another photograph after they leave my class. What I do teach is self-discipline." When a student is presented with a new challenge in life they will need skills to research the problem, propose solutions, test their ideas and modify their plans to ultimately come to a satisfactory conclusion. This is a skill worthy of any profession and goal in life, not just sea urchin biology.