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Blogging On History, Science, and Education

Science Standards Not Good Enough

October 27, 2011

“The average person’s body contains about 100 trillion cells, but only maybe one in 10 is human.” That sentence made the front page of the October 11th Washington Post. And, yes, most of your cells and mine are not the familiar nuclear cells diagrammed in textbooks. Rather, they are microbial cells—bacteria and archaea--that pass on their information buddy to buddy, in a process called horizontal gene transfer. We are just beginning to understand the implications of that process and of the role those 90 trillion microbial cells play in your life drama. “We’re seeing an unprecedented rate of discovery. Everywhere we look, microbes seem to be involved,” says a Colorado University scientist quoted in the Post. Microbiology is today’s revolutionary science; the excitement in the field is palpable. The American Society of Microbiologists now has 38,000 members.
After reading the Washington Post article I decided to see if any of that excitement is conveyed in the National Research Council’s Framework for K-12 science education, a document intended to lead to another, which will frame a common core science curriculum for states to use. The assumption is that this well-intentioned blue ribbon committee-effort will change science education in this country and make our children able to compete in a global economy.
I read the 300 page NRC document to see if that is likely. Does it describe good science? Good pedagogy?
In the section on biology bacteria and viruses are mentioned briefly, but archaea not at all. That’s out of date science. Archaea are one of the three forms of life, known as domains, broadly accepted as the base of the evolutionary bush. (At the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History, t-shirts for kids now come with the three-branched bush of bacteria, archaea, and eukaryota.) (more…)

Talented Teacher Corps

October 27, 2011

This is about three of my educator friends. The first became a teacher of the year. When a supervisor asked this middle school whiz if she would consider teaching a class made up of the lowest achievers from several schools in her district, she said “yes.” A year later the reading comprehension scores of students in that class were up more than 10 percent. After that the district used her as a teacher/trainer. She retired last year.
The second educator, in her fifties, already has 25 years of teaching experience. A reading expert who works in grades 1 and 2, she has long been considered an exemplary teacher. Her district is changing retirement benefits; if she doesn’t retire at the end of the academic year she will lose substantial income. She can’t afford that.
Teacher three had a distinguished career as a high school social studies teacher in Los Angeles where, among other things, she directed a 3-year government funded teacher enrichment program. She retired two years ago.
All three of my friends are aching to be active in education. And schools need them. So here’s my suggestion: an organization called “ReTeach for America” that would cull its members from the best recent teacher retirees. They could be used as swat teams to train new teachers or they might spend time in schools that need help. Teach for America brings eager, young, inexperienced teachers into classrooms. A core of experienced teachers in Reteach for America could help them transition into career educators.

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