Saturday, May 19, 2012

More NGSS sputter

The Next Generation Science Standards draft has a mindset error.

We all carry myths. We tend to separate the science myths ("facts") from cultural myths ("stories"), but there are lots of basic science ideas most of us get wrong most of the time even when we can easily observe the contrary evidence.

If you read the above without specialized knowledge, it implies at first glance that we need telescopes to see planets. A careful reading dispels this, since obviously the moon can be seen without a scope, but if you're an elementary school teacher without a background in science you may not be aware that several planets are quite obvious in the night sky.

That we can see Saturn easily in this particular part of the world surprises most folks.

That stars are points of light, and remain points of light even in powerful scopes (excepting a few monsters like Betelgeuse), also surprises most folks. Telescopes add little detail to stars (though the color may be more obvious).

How do I know? We have a sidewalk astronomy club at our school--we go outside and look.

So how can we do better?

How do we know a star is a star and a planet a planet? Can a young child tell the difference without a telescope? Does this even matter?

Children learn early on that "knowing" certain things matters in class. The NGSS standards, like the current NJCCCS here in Jersey, perpetuate this nonsense.

Knowing how we know things matters far more in science than any particular fact.

So back to our stars--what can a child see?

Go out and find Saturn tonight--now compare it to the stars. There's a difference. Stars twinkle. Saturn does not.

That may be all a young child needs to know to fuel her curiosity.

Now maybe in high school, we can prattle on about discs vs. points, refraction, and all kinds of nonsense, but for a young child, learning how to compare and contrast matters far more than creating a Sherman who can recite facts (and no doubt do well on a standardized test).

Sherman was a damaged child

This confusion about what matters is endemic in the New Gen standards.

Noam Chomsky would have a field day with this document--the language, upon close reading, is both factually "correct" yet feeds cultural misconceptions.The NGSS confounds animals with mammals, electromagnetic radiation with visible light, physical change with chemical, creating an oddly worded document that values its own internal structure more than the universe it purports to unveil to our children.

If we're going to get science right in public education, we need to get it right at the early grades. A child needs permission to observe freely. 


Anonymous said...

I suggest you read "in greater detail."

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Wowzers, thanks!

Anonymous said...

I know you don't mean to come across as anti-science, but can you understand that saying something like "we can prattle on about discs vs. points, refraction, and all kinds of nonsense..." sounds very dismissive and anti-science? It makes it hard to take your comments seriously at all.

doyle said...

Dear Yet One More Anonymous,

Vocabulary isn't science, and, alas, much of high school science is indeed prattling on about anything without grasping the processes. I call that nonsense.

Not sure how seriously anyone needs to take my comments--I thought my disclaimer makes that clear: these are my views only, and I have days even I don't agree with them.

I'm guessing most of my anonymous commenters are not science teachers. I hope not, anyway. =)