28 August 2008

After School Science

I was recently chatting with an elementary school principal who is feeling the pressure to significantly reduce or eliminate science instruction. While it was already a small part of classroom work, increasing demands for better performance in reading and math means that they will get even more of the lion's share of attention. The solution in mind is to bring in more outsiders to showcase science: the science bus from an area museum, science assemblies, etc.

I bit my tongue. I didn't want to, as I don't think this is the right answer; but I also understand the position the principal is in. I don't think this is the first choice that would be made for running the school---but others in the district are in charge of that choice. I wrote about this "Catch-22" for science and literacy back in May. I imagine that I will still be writing about it months from now.

Interestingly enough, the Curriculum Matters group at Education Week recently mentioned a new report on Assessing After School Science:

After-school and informal science education programs have become a fixture in school districts around the country. It's easy to see why. They offer a way to introduce students to the natural world in a fun and pressure-free (free of tests, for example) environment.

But how can educators and parents judge the strengths and shortcomings of those programs? And how can researchers evaluate them in a consistent way?

A new study, prepared for the Noyce Foundation, attempts to provide some answers to those questions. It recommends the development of specific criteria for judging informal science programs, in areas such as student engagement and students' acquisition of science content knowledge and reasoning skills. It recommends the creation of an online database with tools for evaluating programs, which could be used by evaluators and updated continuously. It also suggests the creation of quantitative tools to assess the progress of students taking part in afterschool and informal science.

The authors of the study, which was released by the Program in Education, Afterschool & Resiliency at Harvard University and McLean Hospital, say they are seeking comments on the document. You can send them to pear@mclean.harvard.edu, with "Science Assessment in Out-of-School Time" in the subject heading.
I applaud this sort of endeavor, but I also have to wonder who at a school or district is going to set up and maintain such a database. In an era of ever-shrinking budgets and continued devaluation of science education, will anybody really care about quantitative outcomes? It is the right thing to do for a wrong approach to science ed (assuming after school programs are the only opportunity for kids to engage). Does your school track enrichment---science oriented or otherwise?

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