In a panel discussion in Washington D.C. this week the National Science Foundation announced the award of a $1.8 million grant to the College Board to redesign advanced placement courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science. The award reflects a concern that science and math instruction must be revamped in order to to strengthen America's global competitiveness.
The new AP courses would incorporate the latest advancements in biotechnology, nanotechnology and related fields, and will be incorporated into the AP curriculum in fall 2009, reports eSchool News. Several of the panel members expressed criticism and their concerns for the future of science education in America.
"[We have] a cafeteria-style approach to science instruction," said Shirley Malcom, head of the directorate for education and human resources programs at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "Also, our expectations are way too low." "Students don't get to understand what science is," said Jim Pellegrino, professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
"The challenge is not to find better ways of teaching facts," said Arden Bement, NSF director. "Rather, it is to find better ways of teaching students how to observe, imagine, frame questions, and learn by experimentation. These are the fundamentals of science--the principles that can prepare students for a world in which change comes faster than any course or test could ever change."
With an emphasis on hands-on experimentation rather than testing, the NSF hopes to promote a more interdisciplinary approach to scientific study. The new courses will utilize the latest research on how students learn, and to encourage students traditionally underrepresented in the sciences, to pursue advanced-level study in high school and college.
"This grant aims to give students a better sense of the inquiry process in science and how to reason using scientific evidence," said Pellegrino, who serves as principal investigator on the grant. "It will promote a more interdisciplinary approach to the study of science, as some of the most important scientific advances--such as biotechnology and nanotechnology--are happening at the intersection of different disciplines. This redesign is an opportunity not only to build the AP program, but to set a benchmark for science education in high school and middle school and to further integrate assessment with the processes of teaching and learning."