14 September 2006

Mythunderstandings

Another science supervisor forwarded an eight page article to me about the "Myths of Science Education" from the CalTech Prescience Initiative...although I can't find the article anywhere on their website. Really, it's just an opinion piece. I would think, though, that any professor who circulated the statements below would offer more support and substantiation for these. (Who does he think he is---a blogger?! :) )

Here is the food for thought that Dr. James M. Bower is offering:
  • Myth 1 - The problem with public science education is that a large percentage of teachers are incompetent.

  • Myth 2 - Teachers are under motivated to teach science because they do not understand how exciting it is.

  • Myth 3 - The primary reason teachers do not teach science well is a lack of science content knowledge.
  • Myth 4 - Supplemental teacher training is necessary because too few teachers especially in the early grades, have been required to take science classes in college.

  • Myth 5 - The key to scientist involvement with teacher training is to provide complex information in as digestible a form as possible.

  • Myth 6 - The problem with science education is a lack of good curriculum and therefore we must develop it.
  • Myth 7 - One reason to develop new curriculum is to introduce modern scientific techniques derived from current laboratory experiments.
  • Myth 8 - Training a few highly-motivated teachers will produce "trickle down" reform when they return to their school.
  • Myth 9 - If teachers are motivated enough during training, they will find a way to obtain the material necessary to teach science in their classrooms.

  • Myth 10 - Reform can be accomplished with existing resources if they are simply allocated more efficiently.

Since Dr. Bower is using his experience as evidence against these myths (with no cited works), then I think I'll do the same. With the exceptions of numbers 4 and 8, I don't think these myths are actually out there. They're certainly not things that I've run across in fifteen years as a public school science teacher. I would say that number 4 (lack of science content knowledge) is an issue with some teachers. Having worked at the high school end of things, I have had lots of kids come in with misconceptions ("The blood in your veins is blue and the blood in your arteries is red.") and admit that is what they were previously taught. Many of our sixth grade teachers are a tetch nervous about their new curriculum this year because of the physics involved. Yes, you just have to know more than a sixth grader, but there are still some intense concepts that teachers need to feel comfortable with.

As for number 8 (the "trickle down" effect of training), all I can say is "We'll see." My district is banking on our elementary math/science cadre to trickle on their peers, so to speak. This tack wouldn't stand much chance of success, except that principals have already set aside specific times for teachers to meet with their peers and talk about what was shared at the cadre and work on common planning. We will provide "talking points" and other resources in order to direct the stream (of information).

If anyone is interested in the whole piece by Dr. Bower, I'll be happy to forward it to you. Just send me an e or leave your address in the comments!

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