California Tries Hands-On Learning Style in New Science Curriculum

One of the biggest gripes any kid has with public education is the lack of stimulation. With the implementation of Common Core, the push for seat work and book-heavy homework has made its way down to kindergarten level, causing many students to develop unhealthy levels of anxiety and define school in terms of boredom and even depression. In many kindergarten classrooms science stations have been replaced with tablets, an early sign of what students will face when they enter science classrooms in the middle school years: computers, textbooks, and a complete lack of hands-on experimentation.

California’s new Next Generation Science Standards seek to remedy the boredom and confusion felt by students in science classrooms. The experiment-friendly, hands-on approach to learning is already paying off. EdSource reports:

 “Engaging in the practices of science helps students understand how scientific knowledge develops; such direct involvement gives them an appreciation of the wide range of approaches that are used to investigate, model and explain the world,” according to the science framework approved by the State Board of Education this past November. The framework provides a blueprint for implementation of the new standards in the classroom.

The blueprint requires teachers to perform experiments with students, and students to work with each other. Collaboration and hands-on activity have already made science the new favorite class among charter schools testing the new curriculum. California’s new standards also require that earth science, physical science, and life science, along with engineering, be woven together within the experimentation framework.

Teachers are already observing that “…students are more engaged, doing higher-quality work and are showing improved understanding of core scientific concepts.”

One eighth-grade student remarked, “I really like the hands-on part of science.” She added, “The teacher gives you an opportunity to do things yourself in this class. It’s a lot more interesting.”

The Next Generation Science Standards fly in the face of typical public education classroom practices, making it a challenge for some teachers to adapt. Not only will districts have to find funding for training; the new curriculum guidelines create a radical power-shift in the classroom:

Science experiments can be a challenge for a teacher because often there’s no right or wrong answer. For example, in the paper clip experiment, some students may be able to lift five paper clips onto a magnetized nail, others won’t get any because the wire’s not properly connected, and others may get 20 or more because they used a stronger battery. Students might re-try the experiment a dozen times with different results, learning something new each time but not coming up with uniform answers.

Progressive educators are already familiar with the popularity of Next Gen’s hands-on, student-led approach. The belief in student-directed education is at the core of progressive schools following Waldorf, Montessori, and like-minded educational methods. But, can public schools that rely on federal funding derived from test scores run the risk of implementing a curriculum that fosters uniqueness over uniformity?

For the sake of the students, they’d better. According to the report, the new standards were modeled after teaching practices implemented in the 10 countries with the best science students in the world.