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A Better Way to Learn Science

Posted on Apr 14, 2012
St Stev (CC-BY)

Six years of consideration have led researchers to reject the current American K-12 science curriculum and propose instead a plan that would teach students the relationships between fundamental concepts across the disciplines, rather than force the memorization of loosely connected facts. —ARK


The 8+1 concepts were derived from two basic questions: What are things made of and how do systems interact and change? The eight concepts are: atoms, cells, radiation, systems change, forces, energy, conservation of mass and energy, and variation.

Traditionally, science in the United States has been taught in isolated disciplines such as chemistry, biology and physics without clear connections being made between the subjects. The 8+1 effort encourages K-12 teachers to use the eight science concepts to build understanding within and between their courses as students advance through the grades.

“The natural world seems to operate through these laws and concepts, but when it comes to schooling we don’t teach children these laws and then show how these apply in different situations,” [Michigan State University professor William] Schmidt said.

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moonraven's avatar

By moonraven, April 17, 2012 at 9:45 am Link to this comment

As a math and science major—one of the NSF post-Sputnik whiz kids in the early 60s, I found set theory and venn diagrams VERY useful.  I still use set theory when teaching other subjects—not math.

The ideal curriculum for learning sciences would be to live in the middle of nature as part of it—with none of the genocidal and ecocidal “curriculum” of the white West.

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By Egomet Bonmot, April 16, 2012 at 10:32 pm Link to this comment

8 + 1 is another horse by committee, brought to you by the same geniuses who delivered Venn diagrams and set theory to elementary math classes in the 60s and 70s.

The ideal K-8 science curriculum is a laundry list of quaint and discarded pursuits:  Botanical drawing, state parks, natural history museums, mineral walks, arboreta, Linnaeus, taxonomic latin, a magnifying glass, mud-caked boots, meteor showers, dog-eared Audubon guides, birdhouses, glass display boxes.  These, and nary a “concept” to be heard, would do infinitely more to pique the lifelong interest of a kid in K to 8.

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By moonraven, April 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm Link to this comment

“a plan that would teach students the relationships between fundamental concepts across the disciplines, rather than force the memorization of loosely connected facts”

This is NEWS.

Any half-assed teacher knows that while memory is an element in learning, memorizing is not learning.

You learn by being presented with the whole picture, then exploring it until you understand how it works.

Memory is then useful so that you do not forget what you have learned!

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By grokker, April 15, 2012 at 4:44 pm Link to this comment

gerard—I’ve been thinking a lot lately about, as you put it, “other ways of behaving that are much more supportive of the politics of Nature”. Those ways of behaving have to do with a different way of thinking about who we are and where we are going. We can’t escape politics in one form or another so why is it so hard to come up with a system that is more compassionate, kinder and more egalitarian, using natural systems as a model. One thing seems clear to me; the rational materialist mindset has reached its limits and is on its way out. This means our relationship to science, religion and nature is soon to undergo massive revisions, whether some people on this planet like it or not. It’s the time between paradigm change that is awfully scary, and this is where we find ourselves. We can’t continue existing as if power relations, hierarchy, and domination were all that humans are capable of. I don’t happen to buy into the Hobbesian(?) view of human nature. I guess I’m more of a Platonist and Transcendentalist. The old ways of thinking will fall away and these old dinosaurs that rule now will be relegated to the dust heap of history. Hope we live to see humans as a whole regain their souls and their humanity.

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By gerard, April 15, 2012 at 3:05 pm Link to this comment

grokker:  Thanks for reminding me:  Matter is one thing.  Spirit iw entirely an “other”. Corporate types are scared pea gree by “others” and by
“otherness” of any kind—socio/political and religious.  If we can just get our kids grounded in the crucial importance of “another” “the others” and “otherness” in general, we have it made and corporations will fall of their own sameness.
  I’m more than half-serious here. Even though they don’t like (even deny the existence of) people other than themselves, huge one-eyed moneymanic corpses cannot function for one day without the cooperation of the millions of shirtless, shoeless, shackless beggars who roust about in the refuse of their dilapidated products, only ultimately to expire as a result of the corporate ethical and chemical pollution.
  In fact corporations themselves are a form of economic pollution.  They just don’t know it yet.
But the facts are coming home—thanks to Occupy and the rest of the (mostly silent) 99%.
  There are “other” ways of behaving that are much more supportive of the politics of Nature, which, in spite of so much birthing and dying, seems to maintain a sort of democratic co-existence of wildly different “others”—some with two legs, and many more with either four or none.  Amazing how they all persist in getting born!  And maintaining their “otherness” while cooperating when possible.
  Then there are all those odd ghosts of “otherness” lurking in the human brain. Is there a different way to do this?  What would happen if we did that?  Has such and such ever been tried?  If not, shall we be
the first?
  Right not it’s happening before your very eyes.The whole human world is trying another way of behaving in order to prevent a univesal die-off.  It’s called “non-violence” or “alternatives to violence” and it’s a whole other ball of wax, as they say.
  Try some. See if you like it. 
          —Yours in support of otherly love.

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By grokker, April 15, 2012 at 10:09 am Link to this comment

While it is laudable for educators to realize the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to teaching young people, that approach would probably be more useful to the making of a sane world if it were continued through university. Much of higher education now has been hijacked by the corporations to the extent that now campus buildings are named after corporations instead of educators. These same corps are dictating the curriculum as well, to the detriment of a real education, and all at the cost to the student of upwards of 40 grand per year. One also now gets to pay exorbitant tuition to be violently repressed by the academic industrial complex, especially after 9/11. This repression extends from students to faculty and staff. In the end, the banks will profit heavily, and I guess that’s all the really matters.

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By gerard, April 15, 2012 at 9:31 am Link to this comment

Mr. Freeze:  Yeah, I know. And thanks. It all began with digging to China with a tablespoon in the alleys between the strip of brick houses.
  But the baffling thing to me is that it may be no worse now than when I was a kid. Just that the “social factors” are so much more complex and opportunities so slanted in favor of the elites.
  My natural bent was the arts, but I happened to “catch” science from curious people I “ran into” by accident—people who were outside the middle-class Christian conservative box—like Harry Brown who knew how to grind lenses and “run” a telescope and took care of the rare one installed in the cupola of my grade school.
  Then Mr. Bozart who was a little careless with the chemicals in high school where we “experimented”, accompanied by a few near-misses. Then the lab assistant who enticed/forced me into dissecting a pickled sword fish. Then an open-hearted husband who literally taught science to the neighborhood kids in our back yard.
  PS - Maybe the most important thing about learning science is to be lucky enough to escape from religious doctrines. (Going way back, I remember reading that neither the Sultan of Egypt nor Frederick II paid any attention whatsoever to the Pope.)

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By mrfreeze, April 14, 2012 at 9:37 pm Link to this comment

gerard - Your suggestions are WONDERFUL and astute; however, you expect that any of your ideas would be adopted by the nincompoops that run our school systems and the imbecile parents who sit on the school boards who believe mankind use to ride dinosaurs?

You used some pretty “big” words in there: labs, questions, hypotheticals (wow, imaging trying to convince Billy-Bob to let his kinds learn about that) and evidence…...“logical assumptions” are strictly out-of-the-question..

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By gerard, April 14, 2012 at 1:03 pm Link to this comment

Hands on is where it’s at.  Requires labs, materials and equipment for experiment, self-initiated questions, strict safety rules and regulations, permission for hypotheticals, questions, curiosity,  and enthusiasm, orderly record-keeping, wise guidance and persistence—plus a sense of profound respect for life, open-ended dispute, liberty and the pursuit of facts, evidence and logical assumptions.

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