Science FCAT “Lessons Learned”

The Department of Education announced today that they released a publication entitled “FCAT Science Lessons Learned: 2003–2006 Data Analyses and Instructional Implications” (pdf is here). This document was created by a Task Force that analyzed the data supplied by science FCAT scores from 2003 to 2006. The Task Force identified trends in the data and proposed some “implications” of what the findings mean for the classroom. As I thumbed through the 139-page document, I saw a common theme running through the implications.

Physical and Chemical Sciences
Grade 5, page 52
The task force recommends that instruction should include teacher-demonstrated laboratory activities (labs), as well as student-designed labs. Students should have opportunities to apply, analyze, and explain the concepts of energy, force, and motion. […] Students should move beyond knowing definitions into practical applications of the concepts to include hands-on experiences, connections to their real-life experiences, and manipulation of variables in experiments.

Grade 8, page 59
The task force recommends that instruction should include opportunities for students to investigate science concepts using a variety of laboratory activities. Instruction should provide the opportunity for students to connect concepts to real-world applications (e.g., objects sink or float according to density relative to a given medium).

Grade 11, page 67
The task force recommends that students should have the opportunity to compare and contrast, interpret, analyze, and explain chemical and physical concepts during laboratory activities and classroom discussions.

Earth and Space Sciences
Grade 8, page 77
Student should conduct laboratory activities that focus on the processes that shape the Earth (e.g., experiments with soil that demonstrate weathering and erosion).

Grade 11, page 83
The task force recommends that students should have practice explaining earth and space concepts using words and labeled diagrams. Laboratory activities can be used to model and demonstrate relationships such as plate interactions, gravity and tides, planetary motion, and climate and weather patterns.

Scientific Thinking
Grade 5, page 105
Along with this, instruction should move beyond just observations and demonstrations, and into hands-on opportunities for students to analyze (i.e., synthesize, compare/contrast, draw inferences, determine causes and effects, average, classify, categorize), draw appropriate conclusions, and apply concepts.

Grade 8, page 111
The task force recommends more inquiry-based activities followed by class discussions and written lab reports. Students should be given the opportunity to design and conduct experiments to test hypotheses (e.g., science fairs).

Grade 11, page 118
The Lessons Learned task force recommends that students practice designing experiments and using the scientific method throughout the science course. Teachers should incorporate the scientific method through more inquiry-based activities.

Conclusion, page 120
Instruction should integrate the use of the scientific process or nature of science (Strand H) throughout the other reporting clusters. Students should have the opportunity to conduct hands-on experiments in all areas of science, with analysis and reflection to emphasize the concepts and cause-and-effect relationships.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing? The Task Force is recommending more labs and other hands-on work. For you teachers out there reading this, what do you think about that? Is more lab time needed? If so, can it be done?

And as an aside, I noticed this tidbit:

Life and Environmental Sciences
Grade 11, page 97
Students who are unsuccessful have the greatest difficulty with:
• explaining the processes and results of mutations and natural selection;
• predicting the impact of stress on a population (e.g., carrying capacity, limiting factors); and
• explaining the principles of ecological succession (see Sample Item 26).

About Brandon Haught

Communications Director for Florida Citizens for Science.
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3 Responses to Science FCAT “Lessons Learned”

  1. S.Scott says:

    Labs, labs, labs! Yes! My son, in 7th grade pace last year, didn’t do a lab all year long. Grrrrr… But took tests on labs they were supposed to have done. (even more grrrrr…).

    Luckily his teacher this year is doing at least 1 lab per week.

    Labs should be mandatory.

  2. It’s not easy to assess students’ understanding of the scientific process. If it can’t be multiple-choiced, it probably won’t be on the almighty state assessment. Yes, it’s a damn shame.

    S.Scott, sorry to hear of your son’s 7th grade (lack of) science experience.

  3. MaryB says:

    I do labs every week. My students are presently designing their own experiments and performing them. I spend a great deal of my own time making this happen because in my district to save money our planning period was taken away and now there is no money for our teachers to go to FAST and they even have to pay for their own subs for that hurricane make-up day that is the main day of the FAST conference. But the most frustrating part of this is that my actual time in my classroom to teach is shrinking yearly. Much of this is due to NCLB and district mandated tests that take many days of class time away from actual teaching time (in addition to the 2 weeks wasted on FCAT). We just spent 2 days doing benchmark exams plus 8th grade science has mandated district quizzes and mandated computer lab time as well. Our school is fortunate in that we work together extremely well and are well equipped to do the labs with lots of support from great administrators but the interruptions due to “legislated non-instructional practices in the pubic schools” such as fire drills during labs, half days every month with no instructional time, and testing, testing, testing makes it very difficult to fit those labs in and I am actually doing less hands on activities now than I did 5 years ago.

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