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Calif. Adoption of Science Materials Seen as Part of New Trend

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California has adopted materials for teaching elementary and middle school science that observers said represent a significant change from traditional textbooks.

The adoption this month of eight different products for K-8 students is also seen as highlighting an emerging trend of cooperation between states and educational publishers to develop alternative and technology-based materials that encourage active learning.

The videodisk-, videotape-, and kit-based materials adopted are designed to encourage inquiry-based learning. That approach is called for in the science-education-reform efforts undertaken by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Science Teachers Association, both of which have pilot projects in California.

"If you [compare] these materials with what would have been the traditional textbooks adopted in 1984, you wouldn't recognize those programs as science programs,'' said Thomas Sachse, the state's manager of science and environmental education. "They were reading programs.''

National Implications

Just as importantly, observers added, the adoption has significant implications for a national effort to develop standards for science curricula being undertaken by an arm of the National Academy of Sciences.

"You can go into classrooms of individual teachers that are wonderful, but the question that can be raised is why is this is not systemic,'' said Elizabeth Stage, the director of critique and consensus for the standards project.

"This adoption, and similar actions in other states, affirm the possibility that we could really have the materials, the assessments, and the continued development to sustain national reform,'' added Ms. Stage, the architect of the California Science Project, a statewide teacher training network.

Maria Lopez-Freeman, the chairwoman of the science-subject-matter committee for the California Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, agreed that the new materials "take to heart the notion of actively involving kids'' in their learning.

But, she added, "what struck me is that there still is a need for science educators to sit down on a level playing field with scientists'' to insure that materials contain accurate scientific material that is presented appropriately to young children.

Ms. Lopez-Freeman said that while the recently adopted materials contain no major errors of fact, they are still being vetted for scientific interpretation.

Teacher Training Emphasized

The new materials also "are going to really press our teacher training demands,'' Mr. Sachse said.

Some California districts have already altered their approach to science teaching and teacher training to prepare for the recent adoption.

The San Francisco school district, for example, has pegged a districtwide effort to retrain its elementary science teachers to the recent adoption.

With the cooperation of community organizations, the initiative aims to make teachers capable both of teaching hands-on science and effectively using the new materials that are now available. (See Education Week, Aug. 5, 1992.)

But, Mr. Sachse noted, the pedagogy embraced by the new materials means that much more will have to be done statewide to develop teacher competency.

He added that the adoption could also have significant implications for an agreement that California has forged with the Texas Education Agency to jointly adopt middle school science materials in 1994.

Technology-based materials have advanced rapidly since 1990, when Texas became the first state to adopt a videodisk for elementary science instruction.

Mr. Sachse noted, for example, that the product adopted by Texas was rejected in California because it was deemed not sufficiently interactive.

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