Thomas R. O'Donnell

Archive for the ‘STEM’ Category

Next Generation Science Standards gain attention and near approval

In STEM on April 13, 2015 at 7:25 am

Iowa Department of Education logo

Some interesting things have happened in the month since I last wrote about Iowa educators considering the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

If you’ve been reading along (and you have, haven’t you?), you’ll know that an Iowa Department of Education (IDE) team is studying revisions to the Iowa Core science education standards. After considering several sets of standards, including some from other states, the team focused on the NGSS as a baseline for new Iowa requirements. You can read more about the deliberations and associated surveys, forums and issues in my previous posts.

This followed an earlier IDE task force that reviewed the NGSS and endorsed them as acceptable for Iowa.

The two groups approved the NGSS despite loosely organized opposition from social and political conservatives. They object to the standards’ emphasis on inquiry-based, hands-on science understanding as opposed to rote memorization. But they may object even more to their inclusion of evolution and human-caused climate change as accepted science. Which they are.

In the next month or so, the team will devise a recommendation for the Iowa Board of Education to consider. It meets again on Tuesday, April 14, at the Science Center of Iowa boardroom in Des Moines.

Here are the new developments:

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Review panel data finds strong support for the Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on March 10, 2015 at 7:45 am
Chart showing sentiment toward the depth and breadth of the Next Generation Science Standards among Iowans in an unscientific survey.

Chart showing sentiment toward the depth and breadth of the NGSS among respondents in an online survey.

Often, the loudest voices get the most attention in a debate. For instance, there’s organized, motivated opposition to Iowa’s adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards.

But the loudest voice doesn’t always represent the majority.

Data gathered from an Iowa Department of Education team reviewing the state’s science education standards indicates there’s strong, if not overwhelming, support for adoption of the NGSS as a base for revised Iowa standards – the base concepts K-12 students will need to grasp to advance and graduate.

Significantly, much of the support comes from the state’s teachers and administrators – the people who will have to implement the framework while applying their own judgment and expertise.

Even at four forums around the state, where you might expect opponents to come out in force, the number of speakers in favor appears to outnumber those speakers opposed. (Although, at least at the meeting I attended, only a fraction of those present actually addressed the education officials.)

The review team was established under a governor’s executive order, which directed the education department to review all the state’s standards, now called the Iowa Core. Over the last month the review team has gathered comments from parents, teachers, administrators, and others via a survey and the forums.

On Thursday the review team met to review the comments and survey results. After they got them, I got them. Now you can read them, too – if you care to invest the time.

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Why you shouldn’t fear the Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on February 25, 2015 at 7:23 am
A man lights a cigarette. If local schools can dictate what science is taught, what's to stop a North Carolina school from teaching that cigarettes aren't unhealthy?

If local schools can dictate what science is taught, what’s to stop a North Carolina school from teaching that cigarettes are safe? Credit: Nightsongs via photopin (license)

This is the last week Iowans can provide comments to an Iowa Department of Education panel that is reviewing the state’s science teaching standards.

As I’ve written before, the panel reviewed several sets of standards before deciding to consider the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) as a basis for Iowa’s revised guidelines. The panel had one open forum on February 11. The last two are this week: tonight in Dubuque and Thursday in Sioux City.

The panel also is collecting opinions via a survey. If you support the teaching of accurate, evidence-based information in Iowa schools, you must take it now, because opponents are arrayed against the NGSS.

Through all this, I’ve puzzled over one question: Why do people fear standards?

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Parents pack Waukee forum to comment on Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on February 17, 2015 at 7:32 am

If you were in Waukee at a forum about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) last Wednesday night and knew nothing about them, you may have come away thinking they’re a government plot to dumb down science for our kids and brainwash them.

Or you might have left thinking they’re evidence-based, objective guidelines that will help children understand how science works and how to apply those principles throughout their lives.

An Iowa Department of Education team is considering using the NGSS as a base to set new standards for what Iowa youths should learn about science.

To gather public input the team of educators is holding a series of forums around the state. I attended the first one, at the Waukee Community School District offices, on Feb. 11.

As I’ve written in previous posts, I fear conservative forces will attempt to scuttle the standards, at least in part because they teach evolution as the best explanation for Earth’s biological diversity and human influence as the best explanation for climate change.

What I heard on Wednesday did little to ease my fears and much to exacerbate them.

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Make your voice heard (again) on the Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on February 9, 2015 at 7:52 am

After dropping off the screen for more than a year, the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are back in the spotlight.

A team of educators is reviewing Iowa’s science standards – what concepts they should know or what skills they should demonstrate. After considering several different criteria, ones either proposed or used elsewhere, it settled on the NGSS as the foundation for what kids will learn in science classes across Iowa.

Maybe more importantly, the NGSS outlines how students will learn, hoping to set them up to learn and work with facts and technology we can’t forecast.

Now the team is gathering feedback on the standards from educators, parents and students, through an on-line survey and four forums – the first of which is this Wednesday afternoon.

Like the last time a state panel considered the NGSS, the survey and the forums could be an opportunity for conservative opponents to come out and torpedo the effort.

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Talkin’ science talks and Cyclone Survivor

In STEM on June 12, 2014 at 8:11 am
Gray wolves looking cute.

Canis lupus: the gray wolf, once roamed Iowa. Credit: Steve Jurvetson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via Compfight cc

A quick post to spread the word about two lecture series now in progress for folks living in Central Iowa. If you have a Friday night or Saturday afternoon free, they’re great destinations for engaging talks on wildlife, astronomy, biology and more. They’re at no charge and in beautiful settings.

I’ll also note the accomplishments of a Williamsburg FIRST LEGO League team in this year’s Global Innovation Award competition.

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Next Generation Science Standards: an update

In STEM on April 30, 2014 at 6:49 am

Next Generation Science Standards logoIt’s been six months since an Iowa Department of Education task force recommended the state adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The group of educators, legislators, parents and others rejected conservative objections over local control and the inclusion of evolution and human-caused climate change and sent the standards on to the Iowa Board of Education.

The standards, formulated with input from 24 states – including Iowa – will set the agenda for science literacy and, more importantly, for teaching citizens to understand and interpret scientific data.

Since then, there’s been no news – which made me nervous. Was the board letting the NGSS die of neglect, hoping people would forget about them? Was the department getting objections from conservative officials in Gov. Terry Branstad’s administration?

It seems the former hasn’t happened and it’s doubtful the latter has, either. What is clear is that the drive to adopt the standards has stalled.

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NGSS: On to the next battle

In STEM on October 18, 2013 at 11:53 am
A summary of comments on the NGSS from community members, students, nonprofits and philanthropic groups.

A summary of comments on the NGSS from Iowa citizens, students, nonprofits and philanthropic groups.

I can say, gladly, that I was wrong.

My fear was unfounded, that Iowa officials (and probably politicians) would kill the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) by shunting their consideration to a task force of administrators, teachers, education experts, parents and students in order to kill them.

It turned out that evolution opponents and climate change deniers failed to hijack an open survey to campaign against the standards, which teach both as supported by the evidence. So I was wrong about that, too, although the survey produced some interesting results.

In the end, the NGSS will go to the Iowa Board of Education with a recommendation for adoption, although not without some provisos.

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Beware: Conservatives are targeting the Next Generation Science Standards

In STEM on October 8, 2013 at 8:08 am
A boy in school, standing in front of a blackboard.

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

I’ve written about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and my fears that an Iowa Department of Education task force may be a smokescreen for Gov. Terry Branstad to kill them.

I also wrote about an important survey the task force is taking to get Iowans’ views on the standards. The survey ends Friday, October 11, and you must take it if you believe faux science like intelligent design (i.e., creationism) should be kept out of Iowa classrooms while fact-based science education, including evidence for anthropomorphic anthropogenic climate change, is kept in.

Because there are signs religious fundamentalists and conservative education activists will hijack the survey – as I feared. And there are signs I may be right about the smokescreen.

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Take this important survey to support fact-based science in Iowa schools

In STEM on September 25, 2013 at 2:27 am

Next Generation Science Standards LogoIf want to help ensure Iowa kids aren’t fed creationism alongside evolution and aren’t told to forget the idea that humans are changing the world’s climate, I have a job for you.

I’ve written before about the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which 26 states, including Iowa, formulated. They’re designed to mesh with the Common Core State Standards, educational guidelines established through a similar process.

The science standards were published in April and Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad immediately shunted them off to a task force to consider whether to adopt them.

The task force has been busy. This is where your job comes in.

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Could Branstad’s task force be a smokescreen to kill new science education standards?

In STEM, Uncategorized on August 20, 2013 at 4:06 am
Kids looking into microscopes and doing science

Photo credit: Atli Harðarson via photopin cc

Terry Branstad and his lieutenant, Kim Reynolds, have been pushing Iowa educators to do more to engage kids in STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The idea is to have a well-trained workforce for all those high-tech jobs they want to bring to the state.

So far, they’ve accompanied the drive with action, starting the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council, handing out grants to scale-up activities, like FIRST LEGO League, that are designed to engage and attract students to technical fields, and holding annual summits of educators, administrators and business people.

Now, however, Branstad may face the biggest test of his resolve to make Iowans STEM leaders. His administration will have to decide if and how to adopt new science education standards – guidelines and goals that have prompted controversy elsewhere and could upset the conservative base of Branstad’s Republican Party.

For Iowans who support the standards, there have been reasons for despair – and perhaps for hope.

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Hold your tongues, Robodogs – UPDATED

In STEM on April 11, 2013 at 2:45 am
robodog robot

The pride and joy of the Robodogs. (Image courtesy of the Bettendorf Robodogs.)

One of the things I do a few months out of the year is co-coach my son’s FIRST LEGO League (FLL) team. We would do it year round – and many teams do meet year-round – but I have another life that sometimes intrudes.

One of the cool things about FLL – apart from LEGOs and robots, of course – is that each year teams must devise real-world solutions to real-world problems. Sometimes, what they come up is amazingly effective – so effective companies actually are interested producing them. There’s even an award for the team producing the most practical, feasible solution.

Teams from around the world compete for the Global Innovation Award. Two years ago, an Ames team won the first such prize. This year, another Iowa team is in the running.

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