Sunday, May 13, 2012

NGSS: Meet the new boss

This is too much science for one post--
I'll get around to splitting it up but wanted to toss it out there now since we only have 3 weeks to comment on the proposed standards.

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss

I've started plowing through the  Next Generation Science Standards draft.

We, the public, have all of three weeks to comment on a document so confusing it comes with an article and a video on how to read the document.

When you get to the document, you get 87 pages of color-coded (at least 9 shades at my count and I'm color-blind) jargon with DRAFT splashed across each page.

You don't have to get too far, though, to find subtly major problems, the kind that condemn elementary school kids to a lifetime of ignorance.

Chemical reactions produce new substances; physical changes do not. 

Melting and freezing are physical changes--this is a tougher concept than it appears, which is all the more reason we need to get it right in the lower grades.
Most of my time as a science teacher is spent helping children unlearn. Turns out unlearning takes a lot more practice than learning.

Sponges are animals, too.

And they don't "move around."

My sophomores think "animal" means something warm, fuzzy, and mobile. So do a lot of their teachers. 

Humans (and other animals) can, in fact, release energy from glucose without oxygen.

We cannot meet all our energy needs this way, of course, but plants, animals, and bacteria all share an ancient pathway called glycolysis ("splitting sugar") as the first step in extracting energy from organic compounds.

If you're going to mention that breaking down sugars produces carbon dioxide, why not mention the water part as well? Make this stuff real for a child. A child can grasp the idea of water. A teacher can show her that water "comes out of" fires. (Flash a propane torch against a cool sink faucet--you will get a flush of condensation.)

Instinct is not the only thoughtless response to stimuli.

If you touch a hot stove, you'll pull your arm back before you're even aware that it's hot. That's a reflex, not an instinct.

This is a trivial point, I suppose, but we shouldn't tolerate sloppiness in a document that purports to be the woo woo of wisdom.

Please stop feeding the children the idea that energy means movement.

I suppose this may be tossing a bone to Vygosky's zone of proximal development--kids can "see" where the energy goes--but we're fueling the idea that energy means movement. I thought Sir Isaac took care of all that a few generations ago.

(Also, anaerobic respiration does not follow a different chemical pathway--it follows a shorter one. Aerobic respiration is preceded by glycolysis. We're more connected to bacteria than we know....)

The one gene, one protein model is dead, and has been, for a long time.

We have fewer than 25,000 genes, we have over 100,000 proteins--do the math.

(The authors caged their language here with "chiefly"--so this isn't so much wrong as misleading.)

 Food molecules do not react with oxygen--electrons stripped from food molecules do.

Oxygen is not "captured"--it diffuses in with about as much sophistication as a fart traveling across a room.

The carbon dioxide we breathe out gets stripped off the food we consume long before the remaining electrons are picked up by oxygen to form water. Again, I trust that the authors knew their biology, but simplified it for the standards. Language matters.

 If you do manage to find the time to peruse the document, reserve a good chunk of that time to make your comments--
The survey competes with the document for clunkiness.


earlyade said...

I salute you for wading through that muck. I started, got distracted, started again, then just put it away. I'll find some time - at some point - but based on your comments I think it will be a waste of my time.

doyle said...

Dear earlyade,

Part of me thinks we should all make public comments and fix it, but I can certainly see how others may just shrug.

It's one of the busiest times of the year for many of us, and we really have too little time to make a cogent reply.

A shame, too, since the NRC document was so promising.

Paul Mullin said...

I've said it before and I'll say it again:

Go get 'em, Dr. Doyle!

Anonymous said...

(sarcasm warning). I'm pretty sure they mean sponges can move: they just don't want to. I have seen Spongebob Squarepants. Also, molecules are out there hunting down oxygen, so they can generously donate energy into my cells, so they can move. I really don't want to think about this too much, as I don't want my big toe to transition up to my shoulder on a whim.
It's hard enough to remove the anthropomorphism of gravity and magnetism by the time they get to high school: the idea that the world is full of little atom people who love, hate, pursue, donate, take, and have other fulfilling lives is going to be a huge effort. As my daughter says, luckily most students aren't listening anyway. Thank goodness.

Christian said...

That was awesome. I gave up after my second round and didn't look at them beyond the 1st grade, and definitely not in this much detail.

Mary Ann Reilly said...

I'm still pondering a document that comes with a video and an article to help you know how to read it.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Doyle,
Thanks for the heads up on the standards being up for review! I will definitely set aside some time this week to peruse them.

I have to mention that I noticed the dates given for review and found it quite telling that they are only giving a small window of time and only in the busiest time of the school year. Maybe they are hoping not many of us will read it all the way through and point out their flaws.

Someone should have mentioned that the many different colors and the HUGE watermark saying "draft" make it a tad bit difficult to read the actual document.

~ M.

hOMESCHOOLING 2020 COVID-19 said...



doyle said...

Dear Mary Ann,

Frightening in a way, but when I thought about it some more, I realized that the video helped employ a few people, and that the ed reform folks just want to help us out. Achieve is our friend.

Dear Malcolm,

YEs, it's really an official document--very disappointing, and unlikely to change. THe original doc from the NRC was thorough and worth reading. Takes a special talent to turn the NRC report into tripe.

doyle said...

Dear Paul,

All I can do is keep shining a light on the darkness descending on one of the few democratic and public spaces left.

It's weird seing madness as it unravels right under our chins.

Anonymous said...

This has been very informative. I think I should point out, however, that all of your examples come straight, word for word, from the NRC Framework that you speak so highly of. It says so in the front matter. I find it hard to believe the National Research Council could make that many errors.

As far as the format, it took a little getting use to, but it is gives far more detail than a my state standards document. I plan on submitting feedback. According to the website, they are going to release it a second time which means I can see how much they listened or didn't.

doyle said...

Dear Anonymous,

Interesting...I read through the NRC stuff a few months ago, and was enamored by the fineprint. I have to go back and look at the front matter, unless you're referring to the front matter of the NGSS with your tongue in cheek. The standards movement has gotten so crazy I can't tell what's sarcasm anymore

As far as the mistakes, well, the piecies I cited were lifted directly off the draft--I only added the red ovals. Are you saying that these are not errors?

I wish I had more time to go back and comb through the NRC doc--it's the end of the year crazy time.

Adam said...

As pointed out above, all the statements you take issue with are actually word for word from the K-12 Framework which you claim to be a fan of. I hope that you submitted all these same comments when they asked for public feedback on that document, when it would have been more helpful.

Second, this is a first draft, and I would encourage you and anyone else who takes issue with the standards to submit your feedback. The stated intent is to revise the document based on public feedback; if you don't take the time to do that, then the standards won't be as good as they can be.

Third, in my opinion on closer examination most of your criticisms are pretty minor.

For example:
"Chemical reactions produce new substances; physical changes do not."- the heading of this category of the framework is Chemical Reactions- that doesn't imply that they are saying melting and freezing are chemical reactions. If you read it carefully, this is a grade 2 expectation, and in essence it is building the foundation for differentiating between chemical reactions and things that are not chemical reactions.

Another example:
"Humans (and other animals) can, in fact, release energy from glucose without oxygen."
Read the statements- they don't say that humans can't do this. They just say that most animals and plants use oxygen to do so, which is true.

doyle said...

Dear Adam,

Ah, a name. A start.

It is a first draft with a very narrow window for comment. Forgive me if I suspect ulterior motives here--our experience with Achieve's nosing into science here in Jersey may have tainted my usual sunny disposition.

Um, the physical changes is listed under "Chemical Reactions," in bold. You're right it doesn't imply it's a chemical reaction--it states it. It's exactly because it's a grade 2 expectation that I get so riled up. If we're going to pretend to teach them some version of "science" that can be tested, at least get it right.

The contexts of the statements matter. Language matters. Getting this right matters.

Adam said...

Hi Doyle,

I'm sorry you've had bad experiences with Achieve in the past- for the record, I am not affiliated with them in any way. I would also prefer that the comment window be longer and at a better time for educators.

The statements you're looking at are all part of the "teacher-facing" material, not anything students are expected to do. The "Chemical Reactions" label allows science educators to tie in the concept being taught to the larger progression, as spelled out in the framework.

Here's the actual related student expectation from the next gen. standards:

2.SPM Structure, Properties, and Interactions of Matter
c. Provide evidence that some changes caused by heating or cooling can be reversed and some cannot. [Clarification Statement: Examples of reversible changes could be melting chocolate or freezing liquids. Irreversible changes could be cooking food.]"

My view is that there is nothing incorrect in this statement. You would likely not even use the terms "chemical reaction" or "physical change" with second graders, and those aren't in the performance expectation. This is a foundational piece that will later lead to understanding (in 5th and 8th grade) that adding heat or removing heat can cause chemical reactions in some instances, and only physical changes in others.

doyle said...

Dear Adam,

It's because the standards are aimed at teachers that I worry.

There is a fundamental but subtle difference between a chemical reaction and a physical change--it gets to the heart of "stuff" and energy. The standard confounds the two needlessly.

I have been pushing for years for young children to spend more time observing, comparing and contrasting, learning to see the world.

I'll be pulling up differernt slices of the standards as individual posts. This may be the first. I've enjoyed the discussion.

doyle said...

Dear Adam,

You wouldn't happen to be Adam Percival by any chance?

Kathryn J said...

I am so glad that you are reading, posting, and commenting on the standards. I am too slammed to deal with it right now - a truly egregious error on their part is the short window, bad time of year.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

How much of your criticism derives from the tension between complete conceptual accuracy, and appropriateness to the learner's level of intellectual development? Yes, of course we must try to avoid students learning in ways that will require difficult un-learning later on, but don't bury them under over-sophisticated understandings, either. I think kids can be made aware that there is more to any given topic than they are learning in 3rd grade. To be completely accurate about motion, for example, would require beginning with special relativity, but then mentioning that Newton had a good approximation for the special case of objects moving much less than light speed. (Yet even NASA navigates spacecraft across the solar system using Newton's laws.) And you can do a lot of chemistry without worrying too much about quantum mechanics.

doyle said...

Dear Jeffrey,

These are, as Adam said, "teacher facing" material. We need to understand our stuff.

I get the tension of approximation, I live with it every day, as does any science teacher. This does not forgive ignorance.

I'm not asking for the standards for "over-sophisticated understandings". I'd prefer silence to misconceptions.

Anyone who has read my words for more than a few posts knows my feelings on what should constitute science at the earlier grades--observe, observe, record, observe.

Energy and matter are exceedingly nebulous concepts at any level--if we are going to apply these words at all in K-2, we should work to make their meaning more inclusive.

Yes, you can do chemistry in a Newtonian universe, but even there, there's fundamental differences between chemical and physical state changes.

To be fair to elementary teachers, I think more than a handful of high school science teachers are as plenty confused as they are.

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

Lord knows we need your voice in there. Hope you can find some time for this.

Kathryn J said...

You have convinced me. I will make time over the upcoming 4-day Memorial Day weekend. It does need to be a priority for all of us!

Peggy Ashbrook said...

The passion for accurate and clear standards channeled into feedback is what will make the final NGSS document one from "us" rather than "them."

I've had to look at it many times to be able to navigate the color scheme and layout.

My hope is that the feedback will make it a very useful document. The National Science Teachers Association has several forums for discussion about this draft, open to all with registration.

doyle said...

Dear Peggy,

Thanks for the link and for your efforts to spur feedback--the NSTA site is much easier to navigate. When I checked, though, not much traffic was pushing through.

I understand that the NSTA was a partner in this--what's the general feeling on the initial document?

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that the main problem is with this author's ignorance, poor reading comprehension, and hubris, not the standards.

I don't think the author's evidently short attention span should dictate the level of complexity of the standards for K-12 science education. Did he think it would fit on a postcard?

Moreover, several of his comments suggest ignorance or illogical reasoning on his part, not that of the standards.

For example, the author wrote that sponges cannot move. This is incorrect. Sponges have two phases in their life cycles, one stationary and one mobile. Moreover, even stationary adults control their own structural movement.

The author also circled a statement about how most animals and plants use aerobic metabolism. He then complained that anaeorbic metabolism is also possible, which in no way refutes or suggests the insufficiency of the circled standard. He also complains that the standard does not discuss the production of water, but the author again seems not to have read. The standard refers to carbon-based units of energy, such that aerobic metabolism would result in CO2, but not necessarily H2O. For the latter, the input energy source would need to be a hydrocarbon. Read.

Moving down the list, instincts do not require conscious thought. The author's use of a non-cognitive reflex to suggest that "non-cognitive" = "reflex" is suggestive of the author's poor reasoning skills. Then again, perhaps the author is cognitively burdened when appreciating aesthetics.

This nonsense continues throughout the author's whole review.

He seems not even to understand subject-verb agreement. For example, he cited a standard that reads, "Each distinct gene chiefly controls the production of specific proteins..." and then suggests that means "one gene, one protein." How is it that he doesn't comprehend "each gene" (singular) paired with "proteins" (plural)? The standard CLEARLY does not suggest "one gene, one protein." READ!

The author might have valid feedback to offer on the draft--which is presumably the point of submitting the drafted standards for public comments--but he fails to demonstrate any such feedback in this article. In fact, I wonder if his reading comprehension is impeded with some pre-existing bias against the standards.

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