School Board Adopts New High School Science Curriculum

Tuesday, January 23, 2018, 10:58 am
By: 
Karessa Wheeler

East Lansing High School students will see a completely revamped science curriculum in coming years after the ELPS Board of Trustees approved the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Monday night.

The NGSS were created from documents released by the National Academy of Sciences in 2011. The documents summarize research in science education and lay out the research-based science content that all students should learn, said East Lansing Schools Curriculum Director Glenn Mitcham. The standards are designed for all students preparing for college and careers, and focus on a shift from lecture-based teaching to a hands-on, practical approach to science.

“The standards call for a new way to teach science that includes a profound commitment to student inquiry and discovery,” Mitcham wrote in a memo to the Board. “The standards also call for a shift in the sequence of information presented to the students.”

For instance, the current flow chart for required science courses call for Biology in 9th grade and Chemistry or Physics in 10th grade. The students can choose from Anatomy & Physiology, Human Biology, Forensic Science or Ecology as electives. In addition, there are three pre-Advanced Placement (AP) courses and six AP courses offered in the sciences.

The proposed flow chart calls for required courses of Physical Science (Chemistry & Physics) in 9th grade, Life Science (Biology) in 10th grade and Earth & Space Science in 11th grade. Electives include Anatomy & Physiology, Ecology, Forensic Science and Human Biology but no pre-AP courses. The same six AP courses would still be offered for 10-12th grades.

The curriculum change will be phased in starting with new 9th grade courses for the 2018-19 school year.

The new standards were adopted by the State in 2015 and will be included on mandatory testing in 2020. In addition, the State science standards for graduation have been changed from a requirement of 1 credit in biology, 1 credit in chemistry or physics and 1 additional science class. Instead, the students now need to take three credits in science “that are aligned with the subject area content expectations.” Mitcham said this new wording means all students need to master all the State science standards.

ELHS’s Science Faculty has been working since 2015 to prepare themselves to adopt the new science standards, have undergone training on the new standards, and last night, appeared before the Board to answer questions on the standards.

“This allows all kids to be engaged. Sometimes just the high-flying kids are engaged in science but this really engages all kids in a very different way than it has in the past,” said science teacher Suzanne Rojas. “They are thinking and making connections which is really exciting to see”.

Teacher Heather Mueller said the new curriculum gives the students real-world problems to solve that incorporate multiple facets of different science fields.

“For example, how did the introduction of wolves change the Yellowstone ecosystem? That is more than just a one word answer,” Mueller said. “It is the how and the why.”

The Board accepted the new standards with a unanimous vote.

“I am happy to hear this is not just a new textbook but is radically changing how we are teaching science and encouraging kids to do science instead of just learning facts,” said Trustee Terah Chambers.

Three people asked the Board to consider the new standards carefully because they would lead to the elimination of pre-AP science courses. All students would take three required courses, creating “heterogeneous” classes which incorporate students of all levels of interest and skill into a single class.

“I am very concerned about eliminating differentiation from the courses,” said parent Ashley Ahlin. “The framework should not limit advanced courses.”

Will Kopachik, former MSU Biology Professor and current head coach for ELHS’s Science Olympiad, said that on a college level it is very difficult to have science majors and non-science majors in the same class and expect the same outcomes. As a student advisor, he had students complain that they were forced to play the role of tutor for students with less background in science and had to lower their own expectations.

“Let the community have more time to assess this and look for assessments of the curriculum,” Kopachik said.

Board President Kate Powers read a letter from Debbie Walton who also asked that Board consider keeping accelerated programs and adding an honors program to MacDonald Middle School.

Superintendent Dori Leyko said the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards won’t limit anything that would happen in the future. There are no budget items to approve because the science department wants to wait to purchase new textbooks until there are “more quality alternatives in the marketplace.”

“The approval of this gives them the go-ahead to begin this but still be responsive to students’ needs,” Leyko said.