Science

Calif. Mulls Limiting Hands-On Science Lessons

By Michelle Galley — February 25, 2004 3 min read

If an advisory board in California has its way, students there will have fewer opportunities to do hands-on science activities.

The state board of education is scheduled to vote next month on a new set of criteria for K-8 textbooks that would cap such exploratory lessons at 25 percent. The state curriculum commission recommended the policy to the board last month.

Additional experiments would be available within the texts, but they would be clearly marked as optional, according to Thomas Adams, the executive director of the curriculum commission.

Instead of using experiments and practical lessons, teachers would be expected to use more direct instruction and group discussion in their classes, Mr. Adams said.

Critics, however, charge that the commission is trying to limit inquiry- based learning. Student experimentation is a feature of inquiry-based science, which emphasizes active participation in learning scientific concepts.

“They believe that students learn best by being told,” Christine Bertrand, the executive director of the California Science Teachers Association, said of the advisory panel. “That is ludicrous.”

Science, by its very nature, demands lessons that involve more discovery-based learning activities, argued Ms. Bertrand. Restricting the amount of time students spend conducting experiments “runs contrary to what we know about how students learn, and how science is done in the real world,” she said.

Teachers should be allowed to use their own expertise to decide which instructional strategies they should use with their classes, Ms. Bertrand said. “Not every kid learns the same way.”

Texts for All Teachers

The debate over how to teach science echoes similar ones in reading and mathematics instruction that had their roots in California.

What side the state school board ultimately will take on the criteria for science, though, is hard to judge, because six of the 11 members are new appointees of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican who took office in November. The science issue provides an early chance to see how the reconstituted board breaks down philosophically. The governor’s bipartisan slate of choices was generally seen as politically moderate. (“Schwarzenegger Board Choices Applauded for Political Diversity,” Feb. 11, 2004.)

Rae Belisle, the executive director of the state board, supports the concept advanced by the commission. She said that the suggested criteria for instructional materials should follow the curricular framework the state adopted in 1998. It says that only 25 percent of science-class time should be devoted to hands-on activities, according to Ms. Belisle.

In addition, state-approved instructional materials need to be designed for all teachers, she said, suggesting that those with more science education in their backgrounds are more likely than those with a liberal arts background to use experiments activities in their instruction.

“Teachers have a whole range of science backgrounds,” Ms. Belisle said. “We have to have a text that can be used across that range.”

Before the state adopted new science standards, teachers were required to spend 40 percent of science-class time on hands-on activities, according to Mr. Adams.

A ‘Laughingstock’?

The proposed measure prompted 30 state legislators, led by Assemblywoman Jackie Goldberg, a Democrat, to call for revisions in the state science framework in a letter to Mr. Adams.

Following the curriculum commission’s vote to adopt the new criteria, Ms. Goldberg wrote a separate letter strongly urging members to change the guidelines “before California is the laughingstock of the nation for taking a hands-on subject like science and limiting the amount of hands-on instruction.”

Despite the proposed guidelines for K-12 texts, the commission won’t “regulate what [teachers] do in the classroom,” Mr. Adams said. “The actual day-to-day instruction of science is decided at a local level.”

Still, if the criteria win the approval of the state board, publishers will need to produce materials that fall in line with the guidelines, or risk having their materials rejected by the board.

K-8 schools in California can use state money only on state- approved instructional materials.

Such a change would likely be felt across the country, as textbook publishers tend to produce materials that meet California’s—and Texas'—requirements for the nation as a whole.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Law & Courts Webinar
The Future of Criminal Justice Reform: A Sphere Education Initiative Conversation
America’s criminal justice system is in crisis and calls for reform are dominating the national debate. Join Cato’s Sphere Education Initiative and Education Week for a webinar on criminal justice and policing featuring the nation’s
Content provided by Cato Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Science Quiz Quiz Yourself: How Much Do You Know About STEM Best Practices?
Quiz Yourself: How well do you know STEM best practices?
Science Opinion Working With the Likes of Lego, Disney, and Lucasfilm to Engage Students in STEM
Rick Hess speaks with FIRST's Erica Newton Fessia about inspiring young people's interest in STEM using team-based robotics programs.
6 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Science Whitepaper
Improve language arts skills through science
In this white paper, learn how science can be an important part of the day by using a curriculum that includes communication, collaborati...
Content provided by Carolina Biological
Science Leader To Learn From A Place Where Teachers Take the Lead on Science Curriculum
Anna Heyer has empowered teachers to shape the science curriculum in an Arizona district, and has expanded time spent on science.
7 min read
Anna Heyer, District Science Specialist for the Flowing Wells Unified School District in Tucson, Ariz.
Anna Heyer, science specialist for the Flowing Wells Unified School District in Tucson, Ariz.
Caitlin O'Hara for Education Week