Science Achievement, Hampered by the Policies and the Test Police, and Lack of Understanding of the Joy of Learning

I can tell you about a digital and a science divide.

We throw teachers at the students most needy for science and enrichment who are not well-trained, steeped in the ways of science and who have little or no training for hands on science.  I respect those who have never taught who want to change schools but TFA can’t create the learning landscape that is needed for sustainable science education in a couple of weeks. Science requires immersion, involvement, and evaluation.Loving, caring teachers who esteem the use of science, technology materials  and engineering are needed especially in communities where the parents are not scientists… and I throw in computational thinking. In education science has gotten the short stick. Computational thinking forms habits of mind. What is that? The site to begin  is here, and then look at this.

The George Lucas Educational Foundation accepted me on their advisory board and I learned even more. Rob Semper from the Exploratorium was often there, and George Lucas is visionary. We were learning about visualization and modeling, astronomy .. every time I got depressed about how science was “supposed to be taught” the experts around the table at the Ranch would share more information and ideas with me. I think we were ahead of our times. Think Bugscope. Think University of Illinois and NCSA.

An online project that puts access to an extremely powerful electron microscope into the hands of students all over the country has been selected by the journal …

I love science. I started my career as a regular classroom teacher, from a minority HBCU, but I had powerful help in emerging as a science and technology specialist. In my college, the major work at that time was to bring students up to speed so that they could be college graduates. A lot of the kids were from schools that were not so good.  But I managed to learn. I am sure that no one expected me, who first decided to be a model, to be a great science teacher.

There are groups who offer assistance and help and professional development. But most school systems opted for vendor driven professional development. There are projects now like ITEST, but I remember being mocked and made fun of for using CUSEEME. It was not so much the teaching staff, it was the Washington Post that made fun of the new uses of technology. I survived, but others who used it were run out of teaching. And what are we doing now? Technology of course . We are talking digital textbooks , bring your own device and schooling by the Internet. Who knew?

The department of Education at one time was a leader in sharing  initiatives, like the Jason Project. I particularly loved the Voyage of the Mimi , Part two, it taught us to integrate subjects , it was truly interdisciplinary and it had proper ideational scaffolding. It was archaeology, it was science and experiments, it was games, it was videos, it was awesome to be able to teach. How did we get permission, well no one would claim the project, so the Gifted and Talented Supervisor let us do it without trouble. What a wonderful example it was for us. The children personalized the learning, and parents were engaged.

I am a PAEMST awardee for the State of Virginia. I have awards in many areas in science, earth science, Earthwatch Grants, and NSTA initiatives > Did I mention There were always people wanting to teach me more science. That’s the great thing. The sad thing is that science seemed to be mysterious to administrators, so we had to use.There are the opportunities but the policies of NCLB and restrictive principals caused science to be thrown overboard.. Gerry Wheeler of the NSTA is my hero for saying that we teachers were blocked from teaching science in the NCLB testing frenzy. Here is the article to read. Read it well.

Let me say that kids who love school, will work , work, learn and then some. The NASA resources that we used were so powerful. There was a time when teachers could build their curriculum using NASA modules and ideas. I will never forget being with 10 of my students at the White House. We worked hard for that. We were Young Astronauts, Challenger Center students and Goddard Astronomers. I am a geographer at heart. Lookhere to  see my perspective and this is  citizen science. Danny Edelson of the National Geographic says” Citizen science is the name for scientific research projects that engage members of the public in some aspect of their research. There have been some high-profile citizen science projects recently in which members of the public have conducted image analysis and solved protein-folding problems, but the overwhelming majority of citizen science projects involve crowdsourced data collection.”

The last time I was able to share my craft in science was in a Smithsonian Summer Camp. I was not sure that it would work with rising first graders, but they loved every bit of the science and two of the children signed up for the next camp.

I was the teacher that principals loved to hate, except one or two. I had rocks, bones, skeletons, probes, kits of all kind. I blame it on Wendell Mohling a friend of mine. He was on a plane to a science conference that I was attending ( I was going  without permission)

So here was the President of the NSTA who was also going without permission. I heard him say that and I went up and introduced myself. We started working to broaden engagement and make science known to lots of students.

Teaching Science

I loved October, I would get out my disarticulated skeletons, minks, rabbits, cat and a few articulated ones and some sample bones that I had and the kids would try to figure out how to make the skeleton. It took lots of time. I did have some surprises with the owl pellets as one child created a perfect example of a skeleton of some animal the Owl had consumed. So I had as a wonderful place to take kids the Naturalist Center at the Smithsonian . Hal Banks helped me learn to teach kids science and there were plenty of collections for teachers who did not have access to the resources, skeletons, rocks, and coral. I got in trouble once for taking the rocks, un-gluing them from the boxes. I just wondered what the fuss was all about as there were about 45 boxes of rocks in the science closet that no one ever used or looked at. There are probably enough iron filings in science closets in the US to build a battleship. But I digress.

I loved spring, we would hatch chickens, raise frogs and butterflies, start a worm farm and plant a garden. It was hard work. There was parents who loved my work and teachers who blocked me at every stop of the way. Finally I gave up. Pushing both technology and science became difficult. I had an ally in Marc Prensky who understood how sharing resources with people in the field or in the know , worked. An example is COSEE on line work with NOAA. It is outstanding pioneering work

Shirley Malcom and the AAAS gave us tools and connections to the curriculum on-line with interactive links and programs. But the administrators were not interested. It was sad to try to push the needed work, when tests were all that mattered. Here is my work with teachers and sadly, there was some pushback within certain communitiesto teachers learning supercomputing and computational thinking. Bob Panoff and Scott Lathrop helped us bring teacher communities to supercomputing thinking.

My friend Mano works in areas of need in rural Virginia. There are lots of us who have the aptitude to teach students. Permission is something else.

We were into rocks and charts. We grew our own crystals, and we sliced some geodes, and polished some other rocks. Parents helped me, and we wrote grants. In ESS Rocks and Charts you learn to test rocks for various properties. I loved watching the kids figure it out. I had taken that course at Marymount. There was a STEM initiative to help us transform our learning and make science real for the children. Fairfax county used to built these hands on kits for teachers in the system. Some teachers built their own kids nation wide.


Because I was interested in science, when the National Geographic did the first Kidsnetwork, in which a real scientist reported to kids and helped them to create a project around a topic I was able to explore Acid Rain, Water, Trash and Pets. These kinds of projects exist today at the National Geographic and are available as citizen science for classes, communities and those who want to learn. The National Geographic has lots of projects on the education site and a network of alliances to help teachers in each state.

The Fish and Wildlife Service, the Smithsonian Estuary Center, all of these were available to the students, parents and I. We had an Eat a Crab Lab, we dissected fish, we went out on the pier and did salinity studies, surveyed the wind and tides, did microscopic studies, and looked for the various stages of the crab.  Look here. I could share so many things about science teaching, but they are in my previous blogs. Here is a set of pictures from my Facebook page on a great subject. We studied through NASA and learned in the museums.


4 thoughts on “Science Achievement, Hampered by the Policies and the Test Police, and Lack of Understanding of the Joy of Learning

  1. NCLB has been a travesty for learning/teaching science.

    Too many people teaching science don’t understand it.

    Rocks and life are great. Where’s the chemistry and physics? They’re great too.

    How can we transform science education rapidly? That’s been my obsession for over a decade now. Even if we know how to do that, how do we get people to accept the new ideas (that are probably older than they are)?

    • People think that teaching from the book chapter is teaching science. They used to do that, I like you , have a passion about this. i never had real science until after my college days. Had I been exposed, oh… I get angry when I think about the possibilities. I try to advocate, teach, share and give people links, resources and courses to take. B

  2. I’m just working to bring real science investigations to students online. It’s just one piece, but it’s my piece.

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