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Md. adopts new way of teaching science

Maryland became the fourth state in the nation Tuesday to adopt new science standards that will require teachers to emphasize the process of doing science rather than memorizing facts, a move designed to get more children interested in science and science careers.

A revamped science curriculum must be taught in classrooms beginning in the fall of 2017, but school systems around the state can choose to put it in place earlier. Tests linked to the new curriculum will be given in the spring of 2018 and will replace the current science tests.

Maryland was one of the leaders in a 26-state effort begun several years ago to make science learning more a reflection of what happens in real science. The board was expected to approve the standards because two of its members, including its president, were a part of the national effort.

Some board members, including Linda Eberhart, suggested that the state move more quickly in requiring school systems to teach it, but state school department staff cautioned against it, saying districts are already struggling to put in new math and English curriculum this coming year as well as a new teacher evaluation system. In addition, the state is moving to new tests in those subjects in the 2015-2016 school year.

"We want to make sure everyone takes a deep breath and we concentrate on doing one thing at a time," said state school Superintendent Lillian M. Lowery.

Kansas, Rhode Island and Kentucky have already adopted the standards, and others are expected to follow Maryland's vote.

School board member S. James Gates Jr., a University of Maryland physics professor who helped write the new standards, said he hoped that the new way of teaching science would mean that science is for all children.

"Until now the sciences have been seen as for an elite few," he said. "Now we are trying to make science education an integral part of people's education."

Too often students became bored with science or technology subjects because they were asked to learn facts that don't have any meaning in their lives, said Stephen Pruitt, a former science teacher and senior vice president at Achieve, an organization started by the National Governors Association that has helped write new education standards. And once students were convinced they weren't good at science, they steered clear of those subjects in high school, taking as few as they needed to get a diploma, he said.

Several years ago, the National Academy of Sciences set out to change the approach by releasing a framework for how to better teach science, which was followed by the state collaboration. The effort was funded by the Carnegie Foundation and involved the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve.

"There has certainly been a consensus view that we need to improve science education in the country," said David L. Evans, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association.

The U.S. Department of Education was not involved in creating the standards and states are not required to accept them.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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