When the topic has been science, division has characterized members of the Kansas Board of Education in the recent past. That, however, only made members’ consensus Wednesday on an element of the proposed science standards more refreshing.
What members agreed on was the importance of hands-on learning, including developing and pursuing their own experiments. This wouldn’t replace the use of textbooks, but would be a related priority, one that is likely to enhance both creativity and critical-thinking skills.
That’s important to board member Kathy Martin, a Clay Center Republican. Mrs. Martin, a retired teacher, was right in observing that science isn’t best taught only out of a book. Said Mrs. Martin: “I really like what these news science standards are doing. I like the discovery-based, project-based learning.”
The sciences standards, which are reviewed every few years, matter because they shape what is taught and how that material is taught. The standardized tests that measure what students learn and how effectively schools are teaching are based on such standards. The standards for each grade call for students to develop the skills needed to conduct scientific inquiry. Although books will retain an important role, students in the future are likely to acquire many of those skills in a direct fashion. As Virginia Wolken, a retired high school science teacher from Erie, said, “When you learned to drive a car, you may have learned the rules first, but then you learned to drive by actually doing it.”
Among other advantages, “actually doing” science under the guidance of qualified teachers will help students better understand concepts they read about in books and make science more enjoyable — even fun. That’s important given the growing emphasis on science education in our country.
Science hasn’t always been enjoyable for KBOE members. In fact, it was downright unpleasant and divisive from 1999 to 2007 when conservatives who supported creationism sought to have it taught alongside evolution in science class. They succeeded briefly in integrating it into the standards, but in the process brought ridicule to the state from national scientific experts as well as late-night comedians.
Appropriately, the current standards, adopted in 2007, are, as the Associated Press described them, “evolution-friendly.”
Though not all members of the board are of one mind about that, their collective support of more hands-on learning in science classes can unleash students’ imaginations and help them understand essential concepts though their own classroom experiences.