New Hampshire’s science teachers “urge our policy makers to stay the course” | OurTurn Concord Monitor

Daniel J. Bakie Elementary School

The New Hampshire Science Teachers’ Association took a lead role in vetting the Next Generation Science Standards early on and has supported science teachers at all levels in understanding the new standards and using them in their classroom.  Here’s what they had to say today in the Concord Monitor.

The New Hampshire Science Teachers Association strongly supports the New Hampshire Board of Education’s decision in 2016 to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards as the New Hampshire College and Career Ready Science Standards and urges our policy makers to stay the course.

NHSTA teachers worked for years learning about, reviewing, suggesting changes and advancing instruction with the NGSS. After an exhaustive review process, most districts in our state were already witnessing how the NGSS minimum standards raise the bar for science education across the grade levels.

The newly adopted standards do not define curriculum, but aim toward rigorous science learning for all students. The NGSS science practices define explicit skills that are important to all scientific methods and disciplines. “The science practices encompass the habits and skills that scientists and engineers use (every day) . . . content and practices are intertwined in the standards… just as they are in today’s workplace” (NGSS Lead States, 2013). The NGSS were meticulously developed involving multiple stakeholders in science education across the United States. They included Nobel laureates, university scientists, teachers across grade levels, community members and policy makers. The adoption of NGSS as New Hampshire’s science standards strengthens our public education system.

Public education supports our democracy, where informed citizens make decisions that benefit our country. Science teachers strive to equip our students with the skills to make knowledgeable decisions based on evidence. Our instructional strategies are focused on engaging students in problem-solving using current knowledge and theories, thus empowering them to make good choices.

In our schools, we see excitement as even our youngest students interact with their surroundings. Science, technology and engineering fascinate them. Learning and testing ideas comes naturally to them. We recognize the need for strong reading, writing and math, but not at the expense of science where challenges excite our students. Indeed, science can be an extremely effective anchor for math and the language arts.

Many people develop their passion for careers when they are very young; current research suggests that middle school is too late. Science learning needs to begin in elementary school, and continue throughout students’ educations. Our children are our greatest assets and they deserve opportunities that promote them as active learners, applying what they have learned.

Science, when taught well, opens minds and encourages critical evaluation of evidence. Science is the study of the world and universe around us, using our senses and new tools that extend those senses. As we observe our world, we develop questions about it. We may develop explanations using our knowledge, or we may design an experiment to create new knowledge.

Based on the analysis of repeated testing by many scientists, a theory is constructed that incorporates all the evidence gathered. Science is not static, it is dynamic in nature. If new evidence is gathered that doesn’t support a current theory, the theory may be adapted to fit the new evidence, or simply discarded and a new theory is created.

Science relies upon peer review, where scientists scrutinize each other’s work. Reputable journals use the peer-review process prior to publishing articles. All of this contributes to an ongoing search for understanding our world, which is the essence of science.

Appreciating the strength of how science “works” bolsters citizens’ abilities to make informed choices.

Today for example, society is faced with understanding the significant issue of climate change. There is a vast preponderance of evidence, collected over many decades, by scientists all over the world that raises this concern. A scientifically informed citizenry is critical to address this situation for future generations.

In the 1980s we saw the benefit of an informed global citizenry empowering policy makers to address the problem of CFC’s eroding the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Citizens, policy makers, industry and scientists partnered to develop policies and practices that resulted in the rebuilding of this life-protecting layer of our atmosphere. Additionally, innovations ensued to improve the quality of our lives.

As humanity struggles to find cleaner, renewable sources of power, cure diseases and ways to mitigate habitat destruction, having a scientifically literate citizenry is essential to a better life and maintaining our leadership in the world.

The newly adopted New Hampshire science standards are broad but rigorous, internationally benchmarked and encourage local schools to further develop and strengthen their K-12 curricula. NHSTA, along with teachers across New Hampshire, believe these science standards will serve and challenge our students well into the future. They will also prepare our students to be scientifically informed citizens and tomorrow’s STEM professionals.

(Michele Mitnitsky is president of the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association. Daniel E. Reidy is the NHSTA’s vice president. The column was submitted on behalf of the NHSTA board of directors.)

Source: Our Turn: The importance of teaching evidence-based science