- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Teaching how acid rain affects plants hasn’t always been the most exciting lesson, Southeast High School science teacher Anne Weller admits.

In the past, she would show students illustrations from a textbook and lecture about the topic in front of a white board.

But this year is different. The class germinated three radish plants and irrigated them with water containing different levels of pollutants. As the plants grew at different rates, the students took measurements and recorded the data.

Weller cited the acid rain experiment as an example of how the Next Generation Science Standards have changed the way students learn about science.

“They’re discovering the information themselves instead of being handed the information,” she said. “It’s a different way of thinking about science.”

More hands-on

School districts across Illinois have started training teachers on the new set of science standards, which were adopted by the Illinois State Board of Education in February and take effect in the 2016-17 school year. Ten other states have adopted the same standards.

Most schools have already aligned their science curriculums to Common Core, another new educational approach that focuses on math and English skills.

Over a two-year period, the Next Generation standards were put together by a 41-member team consisting mostly of science teachers. The standards were drafted based on the National Research Council’s framework for science education for students in kindergarten through high school.

Supporters describe Next Generation Science Standards as a superior alternative to the current standards, which were adopted more than 15 years ago, because they stress hands-on learning over the memorization of facts.

Content also is narrowed, supporters say, allowing teachers to go more in-depth with topics and relay information in a more cohesive manner.

Opponents fear the standards, like Common Core, are an effort to “federalize” curriculum and eliminate local control.

Weller said she is on more of a timeline to teach subjects, but, overall, Next Generation is a step in the right direction. In her classes this year, she’s noticed that students are more engaged, which has led to fewer behavior issues.

“Students learn better when they are actually doing something as opposed to looking at a picture,” she said.

Getting up to speed

School districts in the area are at different points in implementing the standards. Springfield seems to be a little further along.

Rene Johnson, District 186 math and science coordinator, said the middle schools have aligned the new standards in all of the subjects. The district has phased in the standards at the high schools in chemistry and biology, but not everywhere, she said

At the elementary level, Johnson said the focus has been on the physical sciences, but it will expand next year. She stressed that teachers played a big role in the adjustment. “It’s a work in progress and a huge undertaking to roll it out everywhere,” she said. “So far, I’ve heard lots of positive feedback from teachers.”

Betsy Schroeder, spokeswoman for the Ball-Chatham School District, said high school, middle school and intermediate school teachers have been trained and are working on how to implement the standards. Elementary teachers recently underwent training but are a little further behind, she added.

In Riverton, first-year School Superintendent Lance Thurman said a group of high school teachers is in the midst of training at Olympia High School in Stanford, about 15 miles southwest of Bloomington. A science teacher at Olympia, Thurman’s old school, helped draft the Next Generation standards.

Thurman said he likes what he’s seen so far with the Next Generation Science Standards. The next step in Riverton is getting everyone trained and figuring out how the new standards fit in with what the district is currently doing.

“The most important piece with standards is the alignment component,” Thurman said. “We have to look at what we’re doing now and see how much the new standards will change that.”

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Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/1vzo1PZ

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Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com

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