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Science Teachers See Benefits, Barriers in Standards Effort

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St. Louis

Science teachers believe the voluntary national science standards will help improve the way they teach, a new survey shows.

But they expect to face a variety of obstacles as they try to adopt the standards. The top three barriers they cited were a lack of time for planning and meeting with other teachers, insufficient money for teacher training, and inadequate teaching materials and facilities.

Other barriers included: classroom-management problems, insufficient administrative support, personal difficulty with change, a lack of peer support, and a lack of parent or community support.

The survey was released here late last month at the 44th annual conference of the National Science Teachers Association. The NSTA, an Arlington, Va.-based group that represents more than 50,000 science teachers nationwide, mailed surveys to a random sample of 5,000 members and received 1,900 responses.

The National Research Council, an arm of the Washington-based National Academy of Sciences, released the science standards late last year. (See Education Week, Dec. 13, 1995.)

The standards document argues that all students need to learn science, whether or not they are college bound, and that learning science should be an active process driven by scientific inquiry.

Rodger Bybee, the chairman of the panel that drafted the content standards, acknowledged that there was a wariness of national standards at the recent national education summit in Palisades, N.Y. (See Education Week, April 3, 1996.)

"It does represent a change in the weather, and we have to respond," he said. "But we have to attend to the educational climate, not the political weather. We do have national standards, and I would challenge the states and local districts to find a better set of standards."

During the five-day conference, NSTA officials also released the first in a set of three guides to the science standards.

The first edition of "Pathways to the Standards" focuses on high school. The volumes for elementary and middle school will be released later this year. Gerald Wheeler, the NSTA's executive director, likened the "Pathways" books to road maps that can help teachers put the standards into practice in their classrooms.

Mr. Wheeler also reiterated the association's goal of ensuring that there is a copy of the standards in each of the nation's 110,000 schools. He called on corporate America to help underwrite the endeavor.

A Real 'Chat Room'

In a flurry of other standards-related activity, meeting organizers set up a "chat room" here for science teachers to discuss the new standards. Unlike the on-line discussion forums that inspired its name, this chat room was a real place, where people could talk to each other face to face over coffee and cookies.

But for those with a hankering to visit cyberspace, it wasn't a long journey. In one corner of the chat room was a bank of Macintosh computers where NSTA members could try out a new on-line service, the Science Teachers Network. The network allows teachers to ask questions about the science standards and receive answers from other teachers.

At the computer terminals, students and teachers traded places. Internet-savvy students from the Gateway Institute of Technology--a magnet high school here--were on hand to show the teachers how to use the new service and help them navigate the global computer network.

The teenagers also helped the teachers use another new site on the Internet's World Wide Web, one for the Scope, Sequence, and Coordination of Science project. Led by Bill G. Aldridge, a former executive director of the NSTA, the project is an effort to replace the traditional "layer cake" sequence of science classes with a series of courses in which students study concepts of earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics each year in an integrated format.

The Web site features more than 2,000 pages of curricular materials, including 80 "micro-units" outlining thematic topics of study in the natural sciences. Educators may download any information they want from the site, which is sponsored by Microsoft Corp.

Copies of a new print version of the project materials were selling briskly at the convention's "Science Store," as were copies of the national standards and the new NSTA "Pathways" guide. Jennifer Lawton, NSTA's marketing coordinator, estimated that she had sold up to 300 copies of each book, making them the top-selling items at this year's conference.

The Scope, Sequence, and Coordination web-site address is: http://www.gsh.org/NSTA_SSandC/.

The Science Teachers Network is at http://www.NSTA.org.nses.

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