Object Lesson: How Science Works

Learn What’s a Planet… and What’s Not.. and Why

graphic of solar system

A couple of years ago you might recall there was a huge uproar about the supposed “demotion” of Pluto from its status as a planet and its re-characterization as a “dwarf planet.” The International Astronomical Union adopted a definition of the term “planet” that continues to be batted around in science and public debates about the meaning of “planet.”

In the wake of that decision, and because it’s one that captured public attention, NASA, The Planetary Science Institute, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory have teamed up to offer a special two-day science conference and educator workshop August 14-16, 2008, called the Great Planet Debate: Science As Process.

Its purpose is to discuss science as a process, and use the ongoing debate about what should or should not be a planet as a framework for discussion. It looks like an excellent way for science teachers to get an inside look at the working processes of science that don’t always get enough attention in the classroom. If you’re interested, check out the web page and contact information. As an added bonus, there will be continuing education credit offered for teachers who attend.

No Child Gets to Do Science? Learn about Music? Eat Lunch?

This Speaks for Itself

On February 20, the Center for Education Policy released a follow-up report providing a second, and more in-depth look at the magnitude of changes in school curriculums since the passage of “No Child Left Behind.” In a report published in the summer of 2007, the CEO found that school districts are cutting back on the teaching of subjects like science and music in order to stress math and reading arts. Now, the follow-up report is giving a deep look at just what’s happening among the schools that were surveyed (which make up a “typical” survey of schools in the United States). It shows that 62 percent of school districts had increased time for English language arts and/or math in elementary schools since school year 2001-2. (The full report is available here.)

Ordinarily this would be good, but it comes at a cost that’s not good for science education because, at the same time, 44 percent of the reporting schools had increased their ELA/Math coursework, while at the same time decreasing the amount of time in other areas, notably science, social studies, art, music, physical education, recess, and lunch.

The “money” quote from the report is especially daunting for those who want to see MORE science education going on. In school year 2006-7, the school districts that reported increases or decreases in certain instructional activities had to make some remarkable changes:

“Among the districts that reported both increasing time for ELA or math and reducing time in other subjects, 72% indicated that they reduced time by a total of at least 75 minutes per week for one or more of these other subjects. For example, more than half (53%) of these districts cut instructional time by at least 75 minutes per week in social studies, and the same percentage cut time by at least 75 minutes per week in science.”

For a country that prides itself on being technologically savvy, the results of NCLB are part of a disturbing trend that really needs to be reversed.