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   Minnesota Academic Standards - Science (Final Draft): Some Complaints
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      Improvement by Deletion
      =======================

   Mercifully, the voluminous safety benchmarks and all references to
plasma in the Working Draft have been dropped.

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      Language
      ========

   The language of the Final Draft is improved over that of the First
(or Working) Draft.  Sadly, these improvements do not extend so far as
consistent use of commas in a series ("A, B, and C" versus "A, B and
C"), nor to reliable agreement between subjects and verbs.  (Omitting
the last comma in a series usually increases reading difficulty, but
that appears not to be a concern here.)

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      The student will recognize that science and technology involve
      different kinds of work and engages men and women of all
      backgrounds.

      4. The student will explain how traditions of ethics, peer review,
      conflict and general consensus influences the conduct of science.

   They does?

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      2. The student will recognize that clear communication of methods,
      findings and critical review is an essential part of doing
      science.

   It is possible that this was an attempt to say that the following
things are essential parts of doing science:

      Clear communication of methods
      Clear communication of findings
      Clear communication of critical review  [???]

   It is also possible that it was an attempt to say that the following
things are essential parts of doing science:

      Clear communication of methods
      Clear communication of findings
      Critical review

   The latter makes more sense, but the "is" suggests the former. 
Apparently, clear communication was not a high priority in the creation
of this document.

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      2. The student will identify the sun as an average-sized star and
      that the other stars are so far away that they look like points of
      light.

   Breaking this into its constituent parts:

      The student will identify the sun as an average-sized star.

      The student will identify that the other stars are so far away
      that they look like points of light.

   This is apparently some new meaning for the word "identify".

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      3. The student will differentiate between AC and DC current.

   This is equivalent to, "The student will differentiate between
alternating current and direct current current."

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      4. The student will use the theory of plate tectonics to analyze
      relationships among earthquakes, volcanoes, mountains fossil
      deposits, rock layers and ocean features.

   This is probably a typographical error, unless "mountains fossil
deposits" is some novel technical term.

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      Bad Science Content
      ===================

   More distressing than the bad language in the document was the bad
science.  (In some cases it was hard to tell whether the language or the
science was worse.)  Some examples follow.

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   "It's Alive!  It's Alive!"
   --------------------------

      1. The student will recognize that cells are very small, and that
      all living things consist of one or more cells.

      1. The student will know that cells are the fundamental units of
      life.

      The student will comprehend that all living things are composed of
      cells, and that the life processes in a cell are based on
      molecular interactions.

   Many authorities consider a virus to be a living entity, and a virus
does not comprise one or more cells.  (For example, a Web search for
keywords like "virus vaccine live killed" will locate thousands of
references to live and killed viruses.)  To avoid confusion, if the
standards authors wish to exclude viruses from the living, it would be
helpful to state this explicitly in a benchmark somewhere.  (If avoiding
confusion is not a priority, no change is needed.)

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   Isotopes
   --------

      3. The student will compare and contrast the properties of an
      element and its isotopes, and describe how isotopes can be used in
      research, medicine and industry.

   Isotopes of an element are varieties of that element which have
different atomic weights, but the same atomic number, and hence, nearly
identical chemical properties.  For example, carbon-12 and carbon-14 are
isotopes of carbon.  _Radioactive_ isotopes of many elements (such as
carbon-14) are useful in research, medicine, and industry.  Isotopes in
general are not.  Teaching to this sort of benchmark is likely to leave
the student in the same state of confusion as its author.

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   Sunlight in Ecosystems
   ----------------------

      1. The student will recognize that organisms need energy to stay
      alive and grow, and that this energy originates from the sun.

   All organisms need energy, but they do _not_ all get it from the sun.
A teacher might present a "fact" like this to a class in the hope of
provoking a discussion, but including it in a standard test would be
most unfortunate, as the better educated students will tend to get it
"wrong".

   Here is a brief excerpt from a Web page ("© 1997 The American Museum
of Natural History.  All Rights Reserved.").

http://www.amnh.org/nationalcenter/expeditions/blacksmokers/black_smokers.html

      Deep-sea hydrothermal vents support extraordinary ecosystems deep
      beneath the surface of the oceans.  These ecosystems are the only
      communities on Earth whose immediate energy source is not
      sunlight.  Life on Earth, and even possibly on other planets, may
      have formed in environments similar to these.

   These things have been around long enough that they have appeared on
popular public television shows like "Nova".  Their existence should not
be a surprise to the people creating this document.  Moreover, the fact
that they do _not_ get their energy from sunlight makes them interesting
precisely because they differ from the more familiar (but not _"all"_)
ecosystems which do.  The conjecture that they may heve been involved in
the origin of life itself surely adds to their interest and educational
value.  These ecosystems should be _included_ in the standards rather
than having their existence denied by them.

   We are told that "Among the resources used to develop the new
standards were existing standards from other states [...]."  The
Virginia Science Standards of Learning (known by the unfortunate acronym
of SOLs) give as a key concept, "photosynthesis as the foundation of
virtually all food webs".  Note "virtually", not "all".

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   Light and Heat
   --------------

      4. The student will recognize the relationship between light and
      heat.

   What is this relationship is supposed to be?  "Light" is visible
electromagnetic radiation.  "Heat" is a very general term which
describes many things, such as random molecular motion, which have
little, if anything, to do with visible light.  Presumably, this
benchmark attempts to elicit some kind of relationship between visible
and infrared light, but it's not obvious here what that might be.

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   Genes and Information
   ---------------------

      2. The student will recognize that each gene carries a single unit
      of information and can influence more than one trait.

   A gene is a fairly large piece of DNA, comprising many codons.  A
codon comprises three bases (or base-pairs).  These bases (or
base-pairs) are the fundamental units of information in heredity.  One
might as well claim that in the English language, a _paragraph_ carries
a single unit of information.

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   Acids and Bases
   ---------------

   In the Working Draft, "Nucleic acids" were mentioned, but not plain
old acids and bases, nor pH, nor indicators.  In the Final Draft, pH and
indicators are still missing, but we do get this:

      5. The student will describe how combining acids and bases produce
      a neutral solution.

   Ignoring the questionable subject-verb agreement here, the result of
combining an acid with a base is more likely to be acidic or basic than
it is to be neutral, but any of these is possible.

   As there is no benchmark requiring the student to know what an acid
or a base is, and likewise, there is no benchmark which mentions the
concept of the concentration of a solution, it should perhaps be
expected that the only benchmark which mentions acids and bases is as
confused as this one.  (With no mention of indicators, these standards
actually _fail_ the litmus test.)

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   Earth System
   ------------

      The student will investigate how the atmosphere interacts with the
      Earth system.

   The naive student might think that the atmosphere is a _part_ of the
Earth system, and so might be confused by this benchmark.  Perhaps
there's a definition of "Earth system" somewhere which would clarify
this.

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      Missing Science Content
      =======================

   Remarkably. there appears to be even less science content in the
Final Draft than there was in the Working Draft.

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   Inertia has vanished from the Final Draft.

   The tiny hint of quantum theory ("Students will know that photons
behave as both particles and waves") has vanished from the Final Draft.

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   The Science Standards are essentially devoid of mathematics.  Most of
the few hints and suggestions of mathematics in the Working Draft have
been purged from the Final Draft.  Mathematics gets a bit of lip
service, but that's about it:

      2. The student will explain natural phenomena by using appropriate
      physical, conceptual and mathematical models.

      3. The student will use appropriate technology and mathematics
      skills to access, gather, store, retrieve and organize data.

      3. The student will apply mathematics and models to analyze data
      and support conclusions.

   (Graphs are mentioned briefly in grade 6.)

   We get no explicit hints of what mathematics skills might be
required.  There is no reference to algebra or (naturally) calculus in
the standards.  There are abundant opportunities in high-school-level
biology, chemistry, and physics to use a variety of laws which are most
easily expressed as equations.  This document includes none of them, and
even mentions only a very few.  One might reasonably infer that
virtually no mathematics skills are required, other than the ability to
read and write "data".

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      5. The student will distinguish between volume, mass and density.

   Would it be too much to ask that the student also be able to _relate_
volume, mass, and density?  Apparently, as that would typically be done
using an equation.

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      1. The student will recognize the factors that affect the presence
      and magnitude of gravitational, electromagnetic, weak and strong
      nuclear forces.

   So, the student might be expected to know that the electrical (or
gravitational) force between two objects depends on their charges (or
masses) and on their separation, but not _how_ it depends on them. 
Actually calculating such a force is beyond the scope of these
standards.

   The inverse-square central-force laws describing these forces are
fundamental, yet missing.

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   There remains one (grade 4) benchmark which deals with basic
electricity and circuits.  Electric current is mentioned (as in "DC
current", that is, Direct Current current), but there is no mention of
the concepts of potential difference (voltage) and resistance, and Ohm's
law (V = IR) is also absent.  (Which makes sense, I suppose, if you
don't know about voltage or resistance.)  The units of ampere, volt, and
ohm, are, of course, absent.  Series and parallel circuits?  Not here.

   The relation between simple switching circuits and logic functions
(or binary numbers) is absent.  The simplest fundamentals of the
operation of a digital computer are absent.

      4. The student will describe the production, storage and
      transmission of electricity.

   I assume that this means qualitatively, as the student is not
expected to have any knowledge of the fundamentals required to do
anything quantitative with electricity.  The reasons for the
transformers installed near every child's residence are beyond the scope
of these standards.

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   In grade 6 there is a mention of units for basic quantities:

      3. The student will use appropriate tools and Système
      International (SI) units for measuring length, time, mass, volume
      and temperature with suitable precision and accuracy.

   There is never any mention of the derived units for quantities as
fundamental as speed, acceleration, force (weight), energy, or power.

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   Is "F = ma" one of Newton's laws of motion?  If so, why is it
invisible?  How about v = d/t (speed = distance / time), or a = v/t
(acceleration = speed / time)?

   There is an occasional mention of "direction" as in "speed or
direction", but the terms "scalar" and "vector" never appear.

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      9. The student will describe energy, work and power both
      conceptually and quantitatively.

   What does it mean to "describe power quantitatively"?  The standards
include no hint of how one might _calculate_ the power produced,
consumed, or transferred in any physical situation.

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   I found no sign of any reference to rotational motion: angular
position, velocity, or acceleration; torque; moment of inertia.  The
operation of a torque wrench is beyond the scope of these standards.

   The terms "centrifugal" and "centripetal" never appear.  The term
"orbit" does not appear.  The motion of a satelite is beyond the scope
of these standards.

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   The difference between mass and weight is not mentioned.

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   Conservation of energy is mentioned.  Conservation of momentum is
not.  This might be expected, as momentum itself is not mentioned.  Even
rudimentary analysis of a collision is beyond the scope of this
document.

   Conservation of mass or matter is mentioned, but not conservation of
electric charge.  Conservation laws as a class, one of the foundations
of science, are not mentioned.

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   There is no mention of fields, such as electric, magnetic, or
gravitational.

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   Subatomic particles beyond the basic three, such as mesons,
neutrinos, and quarks, are not mentioned.  Radiometric dating is
mentioned, but not radioactivity.  Alpha, beta, and gamma rays/particles
are nowhere to be found.  (It's all Greek to me.)  Decay?  Half-life? 
Transmutation?  Strontium-90?  Cobalt-60?  Not here.  This would be a
good place to discuss exponential decay, but that might require an
equation.

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   The concepts of frequency and wave speed have been added to the
benchmark related to waves:

      5. The student will describe waves in terms of speed, frequency
      and wave length.

   Of course, the fundamental relationship among these quantities,
c = f*[lambda] (speed = frequency * wavelength), is still missing.

   There is no mention of the distinction between longitudinal and
transverse waves, nor of polarization.  What is monochromatic light? 
Coherent light?  Lasers must be beyond the scope of these standards. 
What's the speed of sound?  Of light?  Oh, those are numbers.  With
units.  Clearly they have no place here.  "Doppler evidence" (of the
expansion of the universe) is mentioned, but the Doppler effect itself,
standing waves, interference, harmonics, and phase are also absent.

   Radio and television are not mentioned.  Without the concepts of
amplitude or modulation, it's difficult to explain the difference
between AM and FM, but that problem does not arise.

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   Stress and strain, and properties of matter such as strength and
elasticity are not mentioned.  Hooke's law (F = -kx) is, of course,
absent.

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   The periodic table is mentioned, but not periodic motion.  The motion
of a pendulum is beyond the scope of these standards, and with it, terms
like simple harmonic motion, period, frequency, and amplitude. 
(Frequency is now mentioned with respect to waves.)  Naturally,
"resonance" is not mentioned, and certainly not nuclear magnetic
resonance, as in (nuclear) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a
technology of some current interest.

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   There is no mention of optics: lenses or images, or indices of
refraction, let alone prisms or diffraction gratings.  (Or diffraction
or refraction at all.  Or Snell's law, another equation.)  The operation
of a simple magnifying glass or camera is beyond the scope of these
standards.  How does a Compact Disc or DVD make all those pretty colors? 
Don't worry, you'll never be tested on it.

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   Fluids, buoyancy, and the Bernoulli effect do not appear.  The reason
a helium-filled balloon rises is beyond the scope of these standards. 
(Ten-thousand lakes, but nary a clue as to why a boat floats.)

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   There is nothing quantitative about heat.  Specific heat and heat
capacity are absent.

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   There is nothing quantitative about almost everything.  Scientific
notation is not mentioned.  Can physical science be taught without the
use of very small and very large numbers?  Or _any_ numbers?

   Is the concept of significant digits/figures hidden inside "precision
and accuracy"?  One can only hope.

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   Graphs disappear completely from the benchmarks after grade 6.  (They
made it out to grade 8 in the Working Draft.)

      2. The student will measure and graph the positions and speed of
      an object.

   What kind of object?  What kind of motion?  What kind of graph?  What
are we talking about here?

   Assuming (perhaps rashly) that this involves a graph of displacement
versus time, perhaps for motion with a constant speed or a constant
acceleration, there is no mention of the slope on such a graph, or,
obviously, the significance of the slope, namely the speed of the
object.  A graph of _speed_ versus time, and the significance of its
slope would, I suppose, be beyond the scope of these standards.

   Long ago, these sorts of graphs were done in high school physics
(grade 12).  How much useful material on this topic will not be suitable
for students in grade 6?  One example may be slope, which first appears
in the Mathematics Standards in grade 7.  What's the point in making the
graph, when the student still lacks the most basic capability to analyze
and extract any useful information from the graph?

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   There is no mention of conversion of quantities in one system of
units to similar quantities in a different system of units.  The US,
unfortunately, does not work exclusively in SI units.  How many watts in
a horsepower?  The ability to convert miles to kilometers or
miles/gallon to liters/(100 kilometers) may be useful someday.

   Speaking of units, dimensional analysis is, of course, absent.

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   My chemistry background is weak, but I notice that terms like
"concentration", "mole", "valance", "oxidation", "reduction", and
"polymer" are absent.  ("One word: 'plastics'.").  Avogadro's number,
being a number, is, of course, absent.

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   Ions have been added to the Final Draft, but not electrolytes or any
other solutions.  Acids and bases now get a (confusing) mention, but not
titration (an understanding of which would have prevented the
above-mentioned acid-base confusion).

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   The ideal gas law (another pesky equation) is absent, but that is
consistent with the (now complete) absence of the concept of pressure. 
(The concepts of volume and temperature have not yet disappeared, but
they are probably endangered.)

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   Spectrometer?  Chromatography?  Not here.

   I assume that a chemist could think of some other fundamental items
which are also beyond the scope of this document.

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   My biology background is even weaker than my chemistry background,
but even there, some significant items are obviously missing.  There is
some mention of photosynthesis, but no explicit mention of chlorophyll.

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   Reproduction and population growth are mentioned, but not the
exponential character of such growth.  (Saved from yet another pesky
equation.)

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   DNA and RNA appear, but not nucleotides or base-pairs, or the letters
A, C, G, and T (or what they stand for).  A polymerase chain reaction? 
No point, as "genome" does not appear, so how one analyzes DNA to
discover it would be out of place.

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   Doppler evidence and Mendel's law (Punnett squares being lost in the
Final Draft) are the closest things in the document to the name of any
scientist, living or dead.  Could not the History and Nature of Science
strand be expanded to include a few of the people responsible for all
this stuff?

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   While this list may seem long, I fear it only scratches the surface.

   It is possible that some or all of these items may be dealt with in
the courses, even though absent from this document, but if they do not
appear in the standards document, for how long is that likely to remain
true?

   Perhaps some effort should be put into creating a "laundry list" of
concepts and even (gasp!) equations with which a student might be
expected to have some familiarity.  Such a "laundry list" is not a
substitute for a coherent curriculum, but it does help to discover
what's missing.

   So much for high expectations.

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      General Complaints
      ==================

   Process
   -------

   It's clear that many people have put a lot of effort into the
creation of this document, and the fact that they are willing to appear
at public meetings and listen to long lists of complaints from people
like me, who have little good to say about it, is certainly admirable. 
Defining and specifying a complete science curriculum for K-12 schools
is clearly a complex and difficult undertaking.  Sadly, there is little
evidence that anyone involved in the creation of these standards had
actually taken a college-level biology, chemistry, or physics class, let
alone attained a major in any of those subjects.

   The fact remains that, while slightly improved over the Working
Draft, this document is badly flawed.  It might be worth looking at how
this could happen.  What is wrong with the way the work was done, and
the way the workers were selected, that could lead to such a miserable
result?  Is this bad luck or bad management, or a systems failure, or
what?  Or is this result seen as a success?
   
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      Research and Validation
      -----------------------

   It appears that, good or bad, like the Profile of Learning, these
standards are about to be imposed on the whole state whether they are
good or bad.  In the real world, it is common to run some kind of pilot
study to determine the effectiveness of such a change before imposing
such a revolution, untested, on the organization as a whole.  I have
never heard an explanation of why it is not possible to do this for
education standards in Minnesota.

   At the public meeting in Forest Lake, more than one speaker bemoaned
the lack of research which would justify various aspects of one of the
standards.  Why don't we _do_ some before we make everyone in the state
take the consequences of this proposal?  Having been through the Profile
of Learning, now moving toward the Minnesota Academic Standards, do we
really need to run the experiment on the whole state every time?
   
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      Conclusion
      ----------

   Am I judging this document by the wrong standards?  Should it include
an introduction which would lay out its goals and set appropriate
expectations?  I could find no document on the Department Web site which
explained the actual purpose of this standard.  (An e-mail inquiry was
ignored.)  Apparently, it is intended to fulfil the requirements of the
No Child Left Behind Act (NoCLeB).  It may do that.  It does not seem to
be of much use for any valid educational purpose.

   The rush to enact these standards, and the lack of any testing or
validation of them makes this conclusion even more plausible.  Whatever
the costs or benefits of NoCLeB, it is difficult to see what value these
standards can add to science education in Minnesota.

   Like most quack remedies, these standards may not be harmful in
themselves, but they are, at best, a waste of time and money, and they
distract the sufferer from potentially effective treatments.  It will be
interesting in the years ahead to see how these standards serve to
promote progress in science education in Minnesota.  (Or not.)

------------------------------------------------------------------------

   Steven M. Schweda                            2004-02-17
   sms@antinode.org


webmaster@antinode.info

© 2017 Steven M. Schweda.