Saturday, February 11, 2006

Misguided pretentiousness and false rigor

The Chicago Public Schools are pushing something called the Chicago Math & Science Initiative

I checked out what is supposed to be taught in sixth grade and found that one quarter is devoted to this:

In Investigating Climate and Weather students begin by conducting a series of inquiries to connect their own experience of climate and weather to the planetary systems that govern weather events and climate change. Next, they investigate the evidence and associated scientific debate surrounding climate change. From their evaluations of this evidence, students predict climate and weather changes for the area in which they live.
I can't help it but somehow I find the idea that sixth grade pupils in Chicago schools will conduct a "series of inquiries to connect their own experience of climate and weather to the planetary systems that govern weather events and climate change" utterly laughable. Most of these kids can't even spell atmosphere and wouldn't know troposphere from ionosphere. Try throwing "adiabatic" at them (a reversible thermodynamic process executed at constant entropy and occurring without gain or loss of heat). Next they will "investigate the evidence and associated scientific debate surrounding climate change." For sure!

Weather systems and factors contributing to climate are some of the most complex things imaginable requiring an advanced and sophisticated store of knowledge. The top brains in science can't even come up with computer models that can fully account for this complexity. But Chicago pupils who lack even the rudiments of science will somehow pore over scientific papers and make predictions. This is delusional to the point of being comical!

What these students need is a systematic, coherent and age-appropriate grounding in major topics of science (physics, chemistry, earth science, biology, etc.) with increasing sophistication as they advance through the grades.

Instead of realistic, specific content goals for each grade, the Illinois state board presents vague and highly pretentious "descriptors" focused entirely on process and "inquiry". These "descriptors" are essentially the same for babes and high-school seniors and everything in between. What "content" knowledge requirements exist are rather vague, skimpy and applied to broad grade ranges.

The following is an excerpt from the Illinois Learning Standards: Classroom Assessments and Performance Descriptors:

Here is a portion of the "descriptors" for FIRST AND SECOND GRADE!!!

Descriptors
11A - Students who meet the standard know and apply the concepts, principles, and processes of scientific inquiry.
1. Describe an observed science concept using appropriate senses, making applicable estimations and measurements, predicting steps or sequences, describing changes in terms of starting and ending conditions using words, diagrams or graphs.
2. Begin guided inquiry asking questions using prior knowledge and observations, inferring from observations to generate new questions, or developing strategies to investigate questions.
3. Conduct guided inquiry following appropriate procedural steps and safety precautions as directed by teacher.
4. Collect data for guided inquiry identifying and using instruments for gathering data, making estimates and measurements, recording observations, or reading data from data-collection instruments.
5. Record and store data assembling pictures to illustrate data, or organizing data on charts and pictographs, tables, journals or computers.
6. Analyze and display results recognizing and describing patterns, noting similarities and differences in patterns, or predicting trends.
7. Communicate individual and group results identifying similar data from others, generalizing data, drawing simple conclusions, or suggesting more questions to consider.
11B - Students who meet the standard know and apply the concepts, principles, and processes of technological design.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Those materials were developed by the American Geological Institute, the largest professional association of geologists and earth scientists. There's tons of content in them. Seems to me that what Chicago is doing in science is really focusing on the content right where it's hardest to and most critical--the early years of schooling.

Tracy W said...

Why is scientific content most critical in the early years of schooling?

I'd thought reading and writing would be most critical. I mean, we are talking about 6 and 7 year olds here.

And they haven't mentioned the most basic thing - teaching the scientific method.

Anyway, I feel sorry for the teachers. "Apply scientific inquiries or technological designs" - huh?

Polski3 said...

Keep in mind, such standards are produced by some edubureaucrat who has no knowledge of like in the reality of a classroom. They sudder in horror of the thought of having to be in a classroom with real kids who do not perform like the latest pc research says they should be performing. Their purpose in educational employment is to suck away what funds they can from being used in classrooms, to have the latest computer equiptment, new carpet and office furniture, to recieve pay increases above and beyond cola, to be able to enjoy long, leisure lunch breaks and to be able to use the restroom whenever they need to, have a regular coffee or water break and, most importantly, to do whatever is necessary to ensure job survival for themselves, such as their constant work to change/revise the standards every couple of years.

Instructivist said...

"Those materials were developed by the American Geological Institute, the largest professional association of geologists and earth scientists. There's tons of content in them. Seems to me that what Chicago is doing in science is really focusing on the content right where it's hardest to and most critical--the early years of schooling."

I'd love to see the modules and find out if they offer some grounding before the pupils embark on a series of "inquiries" of things that are far, far above their heads like the highly technical debate on climate change.

Instructivist said...

"Keep in mind, such standards are produced by some edubureaucrat who has no knowledge of like in the reality of a classroom. They sudder in horror of the thought of having to be in a classroom with real kids who do not perform like the latest pc research says they should be performing. Their purpose in educational employment is to suck away what funds they can from being used in classrooms, to have the latest computer equiptment, new carpet and office furniture, to recieve pay increases above and beyond cola, to be able to enjoy long, leisure lunch breaks and to be able to use the restroom whenever they need to, have a regular coffee or water break and, most importantly, to do whatever is necessary to ensure job survival for themselves, such as their constant work to change/revise the standards every couple of years."

I'd really like to know where some of the money goes. I've been to schools in Chicago that are in dreadful disrepair and woefully underequipped, underfurnished and underresourced. A top priority should be functioning photocopiers without ridiculous limits on the number of copies alloted per teacher.

Instructivist said...

"Anyway, I feel sorry for the teachers. "Apply scientific inquiries or technological designs" - huh?"

The constructivist creed is obsessed with "inquiry" and process and neglects subject matter knowledge.

Catherine Johnson said...

From their evaluations of this evidence, students predict climate and weather changes for the area in which they live.

predict climate and weather changes for Chicago?

predict climate and weather changes for Chicago?

(is there an echo in here?)

as I understand it, climatologists are not even able to predict backwards; i.e., their models do not (yet) accurately model what we know has already occurred, in the past

and....I don't have the impression that any climatologists are making predictions for local areas as small as.....Chicago

are they?

Catherine Johnson said...

Anyway, I feel sorry for the teachers. "Apply scientific inquiries or technological designs"

oh boy, you said it

6 & 7-year old children

this seems to be part and parcel of pushing content ever-downwards into ever-earlier grades

my sister-in-law (teaches 1st grade downstate) told me they are now being asked to have Kindergarten kids writing paragraphs (I think it was Kindergarten - certainly no older than 1st grade)

These are kids who are just learning letter-sound correspondence

Catherine Johnson said...

I'd really like to know where some of the money goes.

This is everyone's question.

Everyone.

One of my most pro-government, pro-tax friends said the other day that giving more money to 'the schools' is like giving more money to 3rd world countries.

I was shocked.

When you get a strongly liberal, strongly pro-taxation person making that kind of observation.....you're in trouble.

Instructivist said...

"this seems to be part and parcel of pushing content ever-downwards into ever-earlier grades"

My gripe with these so-called "standards" is that the emphasis is all on process and "inquiry" without specific scientific knowledge goals.

Barry Garelick said...

In a world where process is equally if not more important than the right answer, content is a distinct threat to an educational philosophy that promises social equity with not much to show for it academically.

NYC Math Teacher said...

Barry, I just copied and pasted your comment into a Word file for later use. What a wonderfully worded pithy critique.

For the record, I am taking education classes at a college in NYC right now, and in one of the "math" classes (quotations intended), the instructor explicitly preached that the correct answer was not as important as understanding the process. The rest of the sheep...I mean students in the class just baaa'd right along.

Anonymous said...

"Demonstrate an understanding of conservation and the need to protect natural resources identifying types and causes of
pollution, listing materials that can be recycled, or suggesting ideas for reducing, reusing, or recycling renewable
resources."

This appears to ignore the fact that there is real debate about the value of recycling or renewable fuels. There is a
question as to whether some processes don't create as much or more pollution as what they are intended to replace, as
well as a lot of cost-benefit discussion about environmental policies in general.

I'm not suggesting this debate should be covered, as I'm sure it is too complex for 6 & 7 year-olds (and possibly their
teachers). However, presenting this material uncritically to a 6 year is indoctrination.

At this age I'd much rather see a focus on basic concepts, to give students a foundation to build from when they develop
the ability for critical thought at a later age. And by basic concepts I mean things like measuring. Science instruction
at 6 and 7 should be all about observation.

"Students who meet the standard know and apply concepts that describe force and motion and the principles that explain
them."

So we're teaching physics in 1st grade now? Are they serious? Actually trying to cover everything in the Illinois
learning standards surely means putting reading, writing, and arithmetic in the back seat. With the exception of
some of the grouping and sorting exercises mentioned, most of these standards seem absurdly age-inappropriate.


--LesleyStevens

Anonymous said...

You don't even want to know how very little children will be required to do in the classroom to Apply scientific inquiries or technological designs to examine forms of energy, exploring sources and types of energy in familiar situations, experimenting with sounds by vibrating different materials, exploring ways that heat, light and sound are produced naturally and artificially
for their teacher to feel perfectly justified in recording that all of the children have met the standard. The teacher spins straw into gold.

How did inquiry become king? Teachers want so much to believe they can run a discussion group, or guide an inquiry, or facilitate a process expertly, without content knowledge. It is deep within our human nature to want to get more for less work. To seem to teach more important higher-order critical-thinking skills while in reality teaching far less content than is wise.

This is a fight over what to teach and how to teach it. Parents think parents should decide the "what": heat, light and sound. Teachers believe teachers should decide the "how": apply, inquire, design, examine, explore, experiment, explore. And then teachers go and generate research to show their "how" determines our "what".

What heartless parent could be against having their child "inquire" and "explore"? It reads like a resume.

Barry Garelick said...

Ask a parent if they'd like to have their child learn water polo before the child has learned how to swim.