Science Standards- earth and space science

“Science, Earth and Space, Performance Standards E Grade 12

By the end of grade twelve, students will:
E. 12.1 Using the science themes*, distinguish between internal energies* (decay of radioactive isotopes, gravity) and external energies (sun) in the earth’s systems and show* how these sources of energy have an impact on those systems
E.12.2 Analyze* the geochemical and physical cycles of the earth and use them to describe* movements of matter
E.12.3 Using the science themes*, describe* theories of the origins and evolution* of the universe and solar system, including the earth system* as a part of the solar system, and relate* these theories and their implications to geologic time on earth
E.12.4 Analyze* the benefits, costs, and limitations of past, present, and projected use of resources and technology and explain* the consequences to the environment
E.12.5 Using the science themes*, understand* that the origin of the universe is not completely understood, but that there are current ideas in science that attempt to explain its origin”
-From Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction science standards for grades 4, 8, and 12:

I thought it might be interesting to look at an example of the state standards set for teaching science content- because I teach high school, I selected the standards for grade 12 (the other standards are for grades 4 and 8). The earth and space standards above are one of eight sets for science in Wisconsin. As you can see, they are both broad and vague- and apply not only to geology and oceanography/limnology (both courses that I currently teach) but also astrophysics and meteorology (the other one-semester earth science offerings, taught by colleagues of mine in the building). The asterisks indicate links to definitions or examples provided by the Department of Public Instruction, and accessible from the link above.

To be fair, Wisconsin is one of many places taking a critical look at science education and what goals we have for the development of scientifically literate citizens. Our new state standards will be unveiled officially in January of 2013, and will most likely include many more specific, process-oriented goals like the ability to create and interpret graphs.

In the meantime, I have to admit that I rarely utilize the current standards when I’m creating content or new lesson plans. I think everything we do in geology fits under these rather all-encompassing objectives. As there are not really any specifics according to the state standards, I use these loose goals along with more specific overarching themes in geology and oceanography to develop my course content. Utilizing the practice of “backwards design”, where you think through the end goals of learning and then work backwards to fill in the day-to-day content, I’ve gotten to a place where I feel like the substance of each class has a narrative thread, hits on big ideas and works in some science skills (back to those graphs!). But because the standards are so general, I could change my content substantially each semester and have students still meeting those vague ideals.

Part of the challenge- and definitely part of the joy- of education is the “art” of teaching. How do you create lessons to meet the needs of your students, to push them to learn and to connect ideas, to meet state or school standards, to help them succeed on mandated tests, and foster a sense of wonder, engagement, and inquiry all at the same time? While I think our current state standards are too generalized to be particularly useful in creating classroom materials, I also believe that moving towards a system where the standards are too specific won’t be any more useful. It is only my 3rd year in the classroom (discounting a particularly challenging year where I was a substitute teacher in every grade level in our district!) and I know that while my content knowledge has deepened, it is my teaching practice that has changed most dramatically. I would hate to lose the autonomy of bringing my own ideas about how to develop, present, and evaluate content for my students.

What should come from the global, national, state, and local discourses around public education? What do “good” science standards look like? How do we make these standards applicable to today’s students and the scientifically literate society we hope to achieve? How do we create standards that are challenging and appropriate for evaluating student skill but still respect and encourage the art of teaching and the development of teachers as professionals?

Erin Parker

About Erin Parker

Erin Parker is still sometimes surprised to find herself in front of a classroom, where she teaches earth sciences to 150 boisterous students each semester in an urban public high school in Wisconsin. She also can’t imagine herself doing anything else, even on the tough days. Erin’s posts explore earth science through the lens of a public educator and advocate for a scientifically-literate world.
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Comments (1)

  1. Nick M. says:

    “What do “good” science standards look like?”
    As a displaced New York State Earth Science teacher (currently working in a different field as they seem to only fire teachers in our state anymore), I find that most standards as decided by the higher ups do a decent job of outlining what should be taught. Were I tasked with creating a set of standards, I feel mine would be very similar to the state’s. The problem, at least in New York, is how these standards are so expansive and tied to our standardized testing, by which I mean, there is only room to teach the standards as that is the only material that appears on our state exams. It’s the mile wide-inch deep theory of education. Furthermore, our students’ success on state exams, which can be highly variable from year to year in difficulty and content, are directly tied to teachers’ job security. Tenure or not, if your students don’t perform, you’re out of a job. So put yourself in those shoes, how would you go about job as a teacher with such a system in place? You couldn’t have much more of a broken system if you tried here in New York. As you can imagine, all teachers MUST teach to the test, no matter how hard they try to branch out, and any activities or hands on learning has to relate directly to the test material; there simply isn’t enough time to do anything else. What we need is for teachers to create the standards, what we need is the phasing out of state tests in favor of experiential education and technologically enhanced classroom instruction. I would have loved to have not used my smartboard as a simple projector most of the time, and I would have loved for my kids to get more than one experience outside at a real outcrop (for that matter, should earth science classes ever be held indoors?), but with funding and jobs tied to student performance it’s not possible, and will often have the administration looking at you like you are trying to do things the non-state way. The teachers are the ones doing the work, the teaching, and see the direct result of their instruction, why aren’t we the ones creating the curriculum, the standards, and the assessments at the highest levels? We need standards that allow for teacher freedom, not only in their lesson planning and implementation, but also from the stress that anything beyond the students’ success at factual regurgitation at the end of a year is going to be effective in them keeping their jobs. There is overwhelming evidence (and if you like I can happily post links) that students need to engage, need the freedom to explore and interact in able to effectively make connections and form conceptual ideas; even without the research, it’s a logical no-brainer. Why then are our state education and federal education departments stressing that exact form of learning, while at the same time introducing more standardized testing and performance based educator evaluation? It’s oil and water, and the those that suffer the most in the end are the ones these standards are meant to help.
    Sorry for the ramble, I know different states have different ways of doing things, but here is the perspective from a frustrated New York State educator. Great blog, keep it up and thank you!

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