What we really need in high school science and why the Fordham folks just don’t get it

With the Fordham folks insisting that all high school grads know Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws in mathematical form, I thought it would be worthwhile to make a wish list for the students I teach in my introductory physics classes for engineering and other science majors.  My wish list is much less demanding than Fordham’s, and much more likely to get a positive response from the Florida Board of Education and the Florida Legislature (although that likelihood is very low).  And keep in mind that all of my students were in the top 20% of their high school graduating classes.

1)  I wish that all of my students had taken a high school physics class.  Depending on the semester, between 25% and 50% of my students – again, all science and engineering majors – had not.

2)  I wish that more than 10% of my students could demonstrate some – any – understanding of basic concepts like Newton’s Laws and electrical current on the pretests we administer in our studio physics classes every semester.  I don’t need them to have memorized the integral forms of Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws – I’m willing to work with them on that.  But knowing that an object traveling at a constant velocity has a total force of zero on it and that the current that leaves a battery in a closed circuit all returns to the other end of the battery would help.

3)  I wish that all of my incoming electrical engineering majors could make a light bulb light with a battery and a wire.  Really.

4)  I wish that all of my incoming students knew that “Volts” has something to do with electrical potential energy.

5)  I wish that all of my incoming students could read a position vs. time plot for an object and tell me when the object is moving in the positive direction.

I could go on, but you get the idea – I don’t need them to know Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws when they arrive in my classroom.  I need them to understand the basic stuff.

Here’s the problem with the Fordham report on the NGSS:  I want to keep science on the menu in Florida’s K-12 schools, even while disappointing Common Core assessment results in math and English language arts put pressure on state and district education policy-makers to deemphasize science so that resources can be more tightly focused on Common Core subjects.  (See Commissioner Bennett’s recent comments on FCAT results)  Our state’s present science standards – standards I helped write – are not working.  In my home county, the best middle school students don’t learn any physical science at all.  Instead, they are steered into the high school biology course as 8th graders.  High school students are steered away from taking physics so they can earn more money for their schools by taking AP courses like Environmental Science.  The Florida Legislature just passed – and the Governor signed – legislation making it OK for students to graduate from high school without taking any physical or Earth science at all.  The Orlando Sentinel reported that one elementary school principal pulls her weaker students out of science so they can spend more time on reading.

And on and on.

If Florida adopts the NGSS, there will be more pressure to keep up with other states in science and more pressure to keep doing science in the K-12 schools.  Maybe it will not help, but maybe it will.

But the probability that the Florida Board of Education will adopt the NGSS and maybe – just maybe – find a way to take science more seriously plummeted this morning with the release of the Fordham report.  That’s the Fordham report that insists that all students know the mathematical forms of Ampere’s and Faraday’s Laws.

The sad thing is that the Fordham folks have now made it less likely that my future students will understand the basics when they arrive in my classroom because of Fordham’s insistence on setting a bar that even a non-expert on a state board of education will know is unattainable.

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One Response to What we really need in high school science and why the Fordham folks just don’t get it

  1. Pingback: Fordham says improvements in K-12 science can wait | Bridge to Tomorrow

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