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Mr. Carroll: Our next speaker is Stan Metzenberg. He has incredible
acumen with the work he is doing. He is a committed biologist and interest interested
in issues in science education and has already played many important roles within
the University and the State of California. The title of his talk is, "Significant
Issues in the Drafting of the Science Standards." Please welcome Stan (Applause).
Mr. Metzenberg. Thank you. I would like to give a brief overview of the California
Academic Content Standards in Science, and then discuss some of the underlying issues
in attempting to write science standards.
The California Science Standards are grade-specific in the range Kindergarten through
8th grade, and then are broken down by specific subject areas for grades 9 to 12.
At each grade level, the standards are broken into the content areas of physical
science, life science, and earth science, and each grade level has a section entitled
investigation and experimentation. In high school, the physical sciences are divided
into physics and chemistry.
The enabling legislation for the standards, Assembly Bill 265, set the course for
the academic content standards, by calling for
"Statewide academically rigorous content and performance standards
that reflect the knowledge and skills that pupils will need in order to succeed in
the information-based, global economy of the 21st century".
Content standards were defined as
"the specific academic knowledge, skills and abilities that
all public schools in this state are expected to teach and all pupils expected to
learn in each of the core curriculum areas, at each grade level tested."
The words "specific academic knowledge" raise a point I would like to focus
on, because the level of specificity of science standards is something that varies
considerably between states. If we consider an analogy of paintings, we can imagine
that a student or teacher is being given a paintbrush and asked to paint a picture.
If they are to represent science in some way, how large a paintbrush would we give
them? If we give them a broad brush, such as one they might use to paint the side
of a house, then they can only draw out long strokes of paint on the canvas and are
unable to add any detail. On the other hand if we give them a very fine brush with
just a few hairs in it, they will get caught up in the minutiae and be unable to
fill the canvas. Both approaches are wrong by themselves, and I think most reasonable
people would want to equip a student with a collection of both wide and narrow brushes.
If you look at the structure of the California Science Standards, you will see that
the Commission struggled with this issue and resolved it in this reasonable way.
Every standard is organized under the umbrella of a more general concept in science.
For example in the third grade, there is a set of standards that reads:
2. Light has a source and travels in a direction. As a basis for
understanding this concept, students know:
a. sunlight can be blocked to create shadows.
b. light is reflected from mirrors and other surfaces.
c. the color of light striking an object affects how our eyes see it.
d. we see objects when light traveling from an object enters our eye.
One thing that you may have noticed about the standard, is that it made use of the
verb "to know." In science you do not get very far if you don't know things.
Some of the standards are simple ideas, for example that you could block sunlight
to make a shadow. It's almost inconceivable that a typical 8-year old would not have
a gut sense about that. Other standards are more subtle, for example the one that
says that the color of light striking an object affects how our eyes see it. If you
look at a red apple in white light, it looks red. If you look at it under green light,
it looks black, but it's the same apple in either case.
If you look at the science standards from different states, you will often see that
the writers had a great deal of trouble having the students "know" things.
For example in the New Mexico Content Standards and Benchmarks, students recognize,
identify, design, describe, explain, compare, evaluate, analyze, illustrate, employ,
relate, apply, develop, and demonstrate. It is rare to find the verb know, although
it does pop up in a few places. For example, "Students will know and understand
properties of Earth Science", whatever that means, or "Students will know
and understand the properties of matter". The few times that the standards use
the verb "know", it is in an absurd context.
So how did the verb "to know" get such a bad reputation? I think it is
because to some people, the verb "know" connotes memorization, or a type
of rote repeating of something that has been said. In their view, if you ask a student
to know something, you are only asking that they be able to parrot it back. On the
other hand to be able "to explain" something is said to indicate a higher
order form of thought. Well, one of the first big surprises I had as a new faculty
member here, reading essay exams, was that students can explain things without knowing
anything at all. On one exam, which we still talk about in my family, I asked my
freshmen students to explain the functions of the liver and gall bladder in digestion.
Quite a few answered as follows:
"The liver is an extremely important organ that is involved in digestion. Without
the liver we would be unable to survive, because we would miss the important function
that it provides. The gall bladder is an extremely important organ that is involved
in digestion. Without the gall bladder we would be unable to survive, because we
would miss the important function that it provides." And so on...
Of course communication of ideas is important, but this experience taught me that
students can explain very broad ideas of organ function and survival without any
grasp of content.
Everyone wants students to be deep thinkers, but if you were writing standards how
would you communicate that to educational stakeholders? If the entire case rests
on one word, say the distinction between the verbs "to know" and "to
explain", then you are bound to have problems. The Commission struggled with
this issue for quite some time and at one point made use of an interesting little
book entitled "Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives". Bloom's taxonomy
is familiar to educators, although many may only know it as a list of verbs that
is an interpretation of the original text. Bloom and his associates attacked the
problem of educational objectives and devised a taxonomic structure that separates
- knowledge as level 1
- comprehension as level 2
- application as level 3
- analysis as level 4
and so on...
The taxonomy is broken down still further, so that one might say
"analysis of elements is level 4.10, analysis of relationships is level 4.20,
etc." For a brief period of time, the Commission issued a draft of the standards
that incorporated these numbers as a means of communicating the objective, while
trying not to lose sleep over the verb. For example, a standard might read:
Students know that energy from the Sun drives weather patterns on Earth, causing
differences in air pressure and creating storms. 2.20
Where the 2.20 indicates to the reader that this was to be comprehended by the student,
at the level of interpretation. Well, this wasn't very popular with the public, and
the codes were removed. Ultimately, the ability of a standard to communicate educational
objective cannot rest either with a single verb, or a taxonomic code. The quality
of the writing has to be the form of communication.
For example, the aforementioned standard:
Light has a source and travels in a direction. Students know that
sunlight can be blocked to create shadows.
That is a concept that requires higher order thinking by its very nature. And yet,
there is also content involved in the statement.
Some people will say that the concept of light is a small idea, and should have been
woven into a broader thematic treatment of science. In the California Science Curriculum
Framework that was written in the early 90's, science is broken down into broad themes
of such as systems and interactions. In the State Challenge Standards written in
1997, one big idea is that
"Systems at all scales (e.g., astronomical, geological, biological,
molecular) consist of many interacting parts or subsystems. When these parts combine
to form the whole, the whole often has properties that are qualitatively different
from the sum of the parts."
A grade 9-12 standard in that document reads: "Every student demonstrates understanding
that components of systems, both microscopic and macroscopic, have unique properties
and functions; when these components combine to form more complex systems, new properties
and functions emerge."
This type of language is extremely common in science standards across the nation.
I was just looking at a copy of the Portland Public Schools standards, and in grade
8 there it is...
"Students identify a system's inputs and outputs. Explain
the effects of changing the system's components"
There is a vast chasm between an 8th grade standard of that type, and any of the
8th grade standards in California, for example:
Students know galaxies are clusters of billions of stars, and may
have different shapes.
Students know the sun is one of many stars in our own Milky Way galaxy.
Stars may differ in size, temperature, and color. "
I don't think it can be overemphasized that California has made a tremendous leap
by demanding content in their standards.
I've heard that there may be some visual learners in the audience today, so I've
brought a visual aid to try to illustrate a point. If we go back to the analogy of
a painting, the California standards are a Cezanne.
The painting is representative of Mme. Cezanne, however the brushstrokes
are not finely detailed. There is quite a bit for the students to fill in for themselves
during their lives, and that's just the way science is. You never have perfect portrait
of the world - it's always a bit impressionistic. I placed a science standard underneath
it, one from California standards,
"The solar system consists of planets and other bodies that
orbit the sun in predictable paths".
That's certainly a content area for which many details need to
be filled in.
If you are planning to sit down and write science standards when you get home, there
are two paintings I would recommend that you not look at. The first is by Raphael,
and it is a highly detailed and representative picture of something that is entirely
I use it as an analogy for a standard in the San Francisco Unified School District
Students demonstrate, through explaining and representing [note
that they managed to get three verbs in there!] an understanding of non-living and
living things and that all living things are made up of one or more cells and that
multicellular things have tissue, organs, and organ systems [which is not true].
It goes on to say that students should be able to meet the standard by observing
and recording the results of raisins soaked in different liquids to determine the
permeability of the cell wall. (unfortunately the students are being misled, the
permeability of the cell wall may be an inconsequential part of the picture.) This
picture is representative, but not of reality. That is a critical difference between
science and art. This is a great painting, but if you represented it as reality in
a scientific manuscript you would find that your colleagues would start to take a
dim view of you).
Finally, don't look at abstract art, such as this painting by Mark Rothko.
Here you find the broad brush strokes and bold statements, but it is entirely non
representative. I equate this picture to a standard from Texas, which may sound familiar:
The student knows that a system is a collection of cycles, structures,
and processes that interact. The student is expected to describe some cycles, structures,
and processes that are found in a simple system; and describe some interactions that
occur in a simple system.
This state has made a tremendous step forward by rejecting the content-free approaches
to science education.
I would like to thank you for your time, and particularly for tolerating my stint
as an art critic.
Mr. Carroll: Thank you very much, Stan. I enjoy art. At this time I would like to
invite the rest of the panel to come up, and we will continue with the presentations
and then the discussion.
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