Kentucky K-12 schools are preparing for the implementation of the new Next Generation Science Standards, which have been met with acclaim and some controversy both in the commonwealth and across the country.
The West Kentucky Educational Cooperative is pushing forward, like it or not, to get teachers ready, holding at least four meetings in recent weeks. John Null was at one held at Union City’s Discovery Park of America.
The standards' implementation in Kentucky is a long time coming. In 2011, Kentucky became a lead state in the development of the standards. The Kentucky Board of Education approved them as core academic standards last summer. Now, after a legislative review process, it’s finally time to make use of them.
Susan Barton is the science grant coordinator with the WKEC. She says that body’s federally-supported West Kentucky Science Academy has been working tirelessly to get teachers ready.
“As a matter of fact, we met Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday this week and they created units using the new science standards that we’re going to be able to put on the Internet to share," Barton said, during the WKEC's trip to the science museum in Union City.
Glenna Rich, a science teacher at Crittenden County High School, says the teachers have also attended state-organized meetings where teachers have pored over and deconstructed the standards. Rich says the next generation science standards are about trying to get the students to reason and come up with ideas of their own, not just memorize a textbook.
“Instead of just knowledge-based questions, we’re trying to ask them things like, ‘Well, what if?’ and ‘How do we do this?’ and ‘Explain this. Build this,'" Rich said.
Tammy Weitlauf is an 8th grade science teacher at Heath Middle School in McCracken County. She says the shift the standards represent is all about real life application and skills development.
“Making models, designing solutions. Now it’s not just about all the stuff they need to know," Weitlauf said. "They need to be able to learn that - the content - but they’ve got to be able to make a product with it.”
The pursuit of a product might result in more experiments like the one that concluded the teachers’ trip to the Discovery Park. They were given a few minutes to construct working parachutes out of plastic bags and thread. The skydivers? Plastic spoons.
Weitlauf says the standards shouldn't be entirely unfamiliar to anyone who has been teaching for more than twenty years in Kentucky.
“It was the original vision of KERA in 1990," Weitlauf said. "I started teaching at that point when the original reform act went through and that was what they were hoping for.”
Karen Kidwell is the director of division of program standards for the Kentucky Department of Education. She says the Next Generation Science Standards are indeed philosophically similar to KERA, with a key difference.
“In 1990 with Kentucky Education Reform Act, we did not have standards," Kidwell said. "What we had were a set of academic expectations and they were very broad and general. For example, we had an academic expectation in science that talked about students being able to identify patterns.”
Pattern recognition tells us that Kentucky is one of twelve states to adopt the new science standards thus far, with more likely on the way. But there is no pattern for the actual implementation: Kentucky will be the first to do so this fall.