18 December 2005

Better Teaching Through Pharmaceuticals?

A colleague of mine recently attended a national conference on staff development. One of the sessions she chose was presented by Merck. Several years ago, they started the Merck Institute of Science Education (MISE) in partnership with a few school districts in the northeast U.S.

It looks like Merck put a lot of money into this project. Teachers who wished to participate were given extensive training over three summers (one summer for life science, one for physical, one for earth/space) and then support during the school years to plan and implement the following:
  • Inquiry-centered sequential science curriculum units that have gone through a research and review process.
  • Professional development programs to prepare teachers to guide students in inquiry-centered science.
  • Cost-effective support systems for supplying science materials and apparatus to classrooms.
  • Assessment methods that are consistent with the goals of an inquiry-centered K-8 science program.
  • Strategies for building administrative and community support.

My colleague brought back all sorts of glossy brochures and some questions about whether or not there were some elements here that we might like to think about for our own district science planning. There are some exciting things to think about...except that there is hardly any student data to go along with the Merck project. Lots of time and money was put into MISE, but did it make any sort of impact on student learning?

It did for students in grade 5---but not in grade 7. Merck attributes this to the lack of alignment between the assessment measures (SAT 9 and NJ state science tests) and the curriculum goals. This was due in part to the fact that the program was started before there the standards movement took hold. But I still have to wonder why they would undertake this whole project without some sort of measurement in mind. They did keep some data on teachers...just not on student learning.

Whatever we envision for the future of science education in our district, I can't imagine that we would make these plans without a goal of affecting what happens in the classroom...and using student learning as the primary gauge of our efforts.

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