As Utah begins the process of revising the state science standards for elementary and high school, it’s a good idea to take a moment to ask why we teach science to K–12 students at all?
Science, engineering and the resulting technologies are interwoven into our lives and will be integral in meeting humanity’s most pressing future challenges. National data illustrate the need for highly skilled workers with strong backgrounds in these fields and the need is steadily increasing.
Finally, the Utah Science Teachers Association believes that all citizens should have a scientifically based understanding of the natural world in order to engage meaningfully in public discussions, be informed voters and discerning consumers.
Problems arise when nonscience ideals impede the teaching and learning of science, either through the use of pseudoscience or the avoidance of topics because they are politically charged. This unfortunately occurred, to no avail, during the process of developing the sixth-eighth grade SEEd standards with regard to evolution and climate change, in particular.
Let me be clear: Every major scientific organization in the country — indeed, around the world — is on record as firmly asserting the scientific credibility of evolution and anthropogenic influence on climate change.
Science teachers have a professional responsibility to teach science topics as understood by the scientific community, as both the National Science Teachers Association and its state affiliate, the Utah Science Teachers Association, recognize. Furthermore, the UtSTA adamantly feels nonscience topics have no place in science classrooms.
State science standards play an important guiding role. Standards set the bar of achievement for the students, while also supplying a broad framework for teachers when constructing their science course curricula. The current science standards have served us well for many years and we wish to thank the professors and teachers, most of which were UtSTA members, who dedicated significant time and energy to create them. However, much has been discovered regarding science and science pedagogy since their inception, and it is time for revision.
As this process goes forward, the Utah Science Teachers Association strongly suggests that the review committee looks to the very best sources of science research, science education, and pedagogical research. The UtSTA believes the sixth-eighth grade writing teams did a wonderful job modifying the very best from Next Generation Science Standards by building in feedback from thousands of Utah’s educators and parents when they created the current SEEd Standards. Utah would be wise in modeling new standards for the other grades on this same system. Whatever standards are eventually proposed by the writing committees, it’s important that they reflect the very best in scientific thought and understanding and not shy away from the scientific consensus on all topics, including evolution and climate change.
The Utah Science Teachers Association’s mission is to support our students, first and foremost, by supporting their teachers and promoting high-quality science learning. Our members who graciously served on the sixth-eighth grade SEEd writing teams are evidence that Utah teachers feel that our students deserve the very best we can offer in science education. Our hope is that the review committee will allow this great work to continue by letting Utah teachers develop meaningful and effective science education standards for the elementary and high school levels.
John R. Taylor serves as president of the Utah Science Teachers Association. He is also an Associate Professor of Biology and Assistant Dean for Integrative Learning at Southern Utah University.