Sally Ride talks K-12 science education at Cal

Sally Ride at UC Berkeley. Photo by Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group

Last night, I had the chance to see Sally Ride in person and hear her thoughts on the nation’s ailing science education programs. Granted, I’d heard most of it before — but not from an American icon.

The quote projected behind her, from Carl Sagan, reads: “It’s suicidal to create a society that depends on science and technology … in which no one knows anything about science and technology.”

You can read the full story here.

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Debora

    I am proud to say that I have a 5th grade daughter who loves and excels in math and science. She gets both math and science through the Academic Talent Development Program through U.C. Berkeley every summer. The science is top notch. The students are expected to keep up with their studies and to keep the learning at a quick clip.

    This particular program believes as Sally Ride does, that science talent is created and that highly motivated students can move through science learning concepts fluidly. In 12 sessions of roughly four hours she learns more in the summer than an entire school year of science.

    It is important to include girls and all students of color in hands-on science learning. I appreciate the first step taken by the school board to state that science must be taught in all classrooms at least weekly. We must reinstall working science laboratory investigations several times per week in middle and high school as well, not to compete, but because all of our children want and need to learn about the world around them.

  • Yanee Rahnema

    A big thank to Sally Ride to talk about this problem. I am a science teacher in Germany and (surprise) we suffer the same lag of respect to the science field in schools. Our schools, too, focus to much on math and literacy, and forget to teach what once made Germany rich, and still keep it being rich: science and technology. My students are afraid of science, because they are aware they lack profound knowledge. Today, the average child scarcely has chances to make there daily science experiences, e.g. playing in the mud, walking through meadows, or even cook.
    But the good thing is, it is not too hard to get the kids inspired! They admire the beauty of an insect and they still get an idea what to do with mud….

  • Katy Murphy

    Wow, an international dialogue! Thanks for sharing your observations, Yanee. What grade level(s) do you teach?

  • Ben Steinberg

    My daughter is applying to the UC Berkeley Academic Talent Development Program this summer, which Deborah mentions in her comment above. As a kindergartener, she has the option of studying oviperous animals or tide pools. California used to be a national leader in education, but now we are lagging very close to the bottom in a number of measures. As a professional community developer, I firmly believe that all economic development grows out of a strong public education system and a trainable work force. Parents and businesses in the local community must get more involved in our public education system NOW or our once admired public education system will continue to disintegrate.

  • Nextset

    Debora: No we do not have to “reinstall working science laboratory investigations several times per week in middle and high school as well”.

    You cannot impose higher ed on people who don’t want it and do not pass prerequisites for the advanced classes. Sorry, you are not dictator of all the children.

    No amount of pious proclamations can make all students take much less pass college prep classes such as foreign languages and lab sciences. You see, not everybody is up to it – or even wants it, or will even tolerate it. You try to force lab sciences down the throat of IQ 90s-80s and they will destroy your science labs in their rage & frustration. Besides, they have other places to be and things to do.

    Which is why they drop out.

    Your (is it really?) well meaning dictatorship would only serve to accelerate the drop rate as increasing graduation requirements (algebra anyone?) has done among black students.

    While lab sciences are important those educational resources must be limited to those who have desire and aptitude to take them – otherwise you will have a program that won’t work at all. And wasted scarce resources. This is what you are actually proposing. Why is that?

    Lab sciences should be limited to college prep schools and summer schools for those who qualify to take them. General Ed students should have science survey courses, heavy on food science, health science, and other basic sciences where average & below average students have a reasonable expectation of satisfactory completion. It’s wrong to set people up for classes where they have a likelihood of failure.

  • oakland teach

    the focus is so much on math and language arts and teaching “basic skills” that students are falling farther behind because their knowledge base is completely narrow in its scope. Students are able to decode, blend, and read sight words, yet they haven’t a clue as to what they are reading because of their limited exposure in science, social studies, art, music, etc.

  • Debora

    Nextset, I reread my post and I didn’t see where I wrote that every student must take hands-on science classes. I said the science labs should be available. That is what is stated in the California state standards – the state provides the money for hands on science investigation. I don’t intent to cram anything down anyone’s throat.

    Also, the U.C. Berkeley program is rigorous and waits for no one. As early as kindergarten, you must have a teacher recommendation and while many students attend on aid, most parents pay for the course. About $550. However, the vast majority of the money is spent in the classroom.

    Let me give you an example: at the end of third grade my daughter took human anatomy. It was taught by a seventh grade science teacher and two credentialed teachers who aided him. There were about 22 students in the class. In 12 classes of about three and a half hours they covered an entire semester of seventh grade human anatomy. The used slaughter house organs and dissected a cow’s eye, a lamb’s brain, other animal’s heart, lungs, liver, and skin. Their homework (yes, about an hour a day) was to draw a different bodily system and label the parts. in class they learned about each bodily system. Oh, and they produce a life-size human body with all of the organs in place using things like pantyhose for intestines, a balloon for the heart and flexible tubing for veins.

    On the last day there is an open house. I asked the teacher about the student work. He said that while the drawing was not what he was used to seeing in seventh grade, it was less sophisticated, the documentation of the lab dissections, the level of intricacy in writing about what each bodily system does, the labeling of the parts, the scholarly behavior and work ethic and the speed at which the students learned and incorporated the information was far superior to his seventh grade classes – these children, on average were four years younger.

    There were students of all nationalities, ethnic origins, religions, colors, some from single family households, two parents, parents were gay and straight, wealthy and on financial aid so that they were responsible for zero payment for the entire course. What sets the students apart is that they want to be there. They can have no more than two absences or tardies (not both, either or in combination) after which they can no longer attend the course.

    Nextset, there are many times when I have agreed what you have written. There are many times when I have disagreed with what you have written. I respect your responses to what I have written; however, I am disappointed that you did not read my post carefully enough to accurately refute it. It is as though you were demonstrating the behavior of some of the students to discuss in your post.

  • Nextset

    Debora: My previous comment was predicated on the notion being advanced that imposing more and higher level science classes on all was the way to go.

    A sore spot with me. Although the science classes you describe in #7 should be available to all students in all districts that qualify for entrance to advanced study, increasing grad requirements and imposing new education mandates is a trend I blame for the increased black drop rates (and poor mortality rates) over the last 50 years. College prep and advanced classes are for those with the aptitude and interest rather than the masses. Our experiment with imposing such requirements broadly has produced harm for all – the brights and the dulls.

    In re-reading your post #1 I do not see limiting language. It did appear to me that in your enthusiasm for lab science and college prep generally you supported imposition of such coursework on all particularly “…to include girls and all students of color…” as you put it.

    “…Girls and all students of color…” are not known to have an affinity for Physics, Chemistry and College Prep Biology. I interpreted your dialog as calling for the Educrats to push these classes on the “girls and all students of color”. It’s that kind of pushing that pushes them out of secondary school when there is still classwork they can be doing to improve their ability to survive the Brave New World (not college prep, though).

    It’s nice that Sally Ride came by to speak to the kiddies (hope we can get lots of historic figures to drop in). There may be students who heard her that can themselves become historic figures. BUT, OUSD is a prole school district. It’s not a college prep district although there will be some students that go on to get post-graduate degrees.

    I see OUSD as being responsible for the quality of life that it’s prole students attain after they turn 18 and make their way in the world. If OUSD does a good job, these average kids will stay out of the way of flying lead, not die prematurely of AIDS, not go to State Prison, get and keep a driver’s license, will find an occupation they can do well in, have a family and grow up to be relatively happy taxpayers. Well trained prole kids can even make a decision that’s it’s time to leave CA and find a happy home elsewhere to go to a promising job or industry. OUSD has a lot of responsibility for the ultimate fate of the students who do pass through the district including the dropouts. I am less concerned about getting another Sally Ride as I am about the mortality and quality of life measures of the Oakland kids generally.

    So I blog against increasing graduation requirements and imposition of college prep classwork because it’s directly responsible for the aberrant black drop rate. I say OUSD needs mainly vocational ed and the basic ed to support it, with college prep reserved for the (relatively) few that want and can use it.

  • http://www.naturebridge.org NatureBridge

    Bay Area nonprofit NatureBridge, the largest residential environmental education partner of the National Park Service, has created a Teacher Professional Development Program to help start the journey of making science education more compelling in order to encourage today’s school children and lift the nation’s proficiency.

    These workshops are free and open to all educators in the Bay Area and beyond, grades 4-7, interested in learning strategies to bring the natural world into their classrooms to help teach science, math and language arts standards.

    The first of three workshops is this Saturday, February 12 from 9:30am-3:30pm at Bahia Vista Elementary School in San Rafael, CA. Participants will receive a teaching toolkit that includes ready-to-use resources for the classroom. Other workshops will be held at the same location on Saturday, March 5 and Saturday, April 2.

    As an added bonus, those who attend two or more workshops with another teacher (or teachers) from your school will receive a $100 per person stipend.

    For complete details or to register: http://www.naturebridge.org/headlands/teacher-professional-development