The National Association of Science Teachers reports that we currently have approximately 180,000 science teachers in middle schools and high schools. We could replace all of them (which I hasten to add is not necessary) and give their successors full 4-year scholarships as science majors to the State University of New York (where in-state tuition and fees run about $7,000 per year) for less than half the cost of a single $11 billion Nimitz Class aircraft carrier. With the money left over, we could buy new inquiry-based science curricula for every elementary and middle school, train all existing elementary school teachers on the new Next Generation Science Standards, and provide high-quality professional development for every math teacher in the country.
We want to uncover what propels sustained energy in all students regardless of peers, parents, poverty, or tenure. What occurs systemically that, done differently, could quickly galvanize students? The resource available tomorrow morning is six hours of student effort. What will you ask of it?
First, get an outcome picture clear. It’s not of students passing a test (only to discard it on exiting their “final.”) It’s not students getting A’s on assignments they never look at again. It’s not teachers “preparing them for the exam” with review questions that formerly would have been teacher-complicit cheating. The outcome picture instead captures a competence and an attitude about it. In your mind’s eye, assemble a roomful of students each of whom is enthusiastic about science; who willingly do more than required, who are more interested in the work they do than in the grade they receive.
Running that movie as what we want instruction to produce, we inquire what goes on in students’ minds. What can we reasonably presume occurs there? What conditions underlie that scene to generate interest and commitment?
I submit that only one cause is strong enough. An idea seizes their imagination, and they identify personally with its pursuit. Their idea fuses the tools of science with a mental purpose, and the two mesh smoothly.
Image credit: Science, from Bigstock