I sure hear a lot about science education in New Zealand, and I don’t know why. The latest is some upset about the New Zealand science curriculum. I also don’t understand why.
Science teachers are shocked that an advance version of the draft school science curriculum contains no mention of physics, chemistry or biology.
The so-called “fast draft” said science would be taught through five contexts – the Earth system, biodiversity, food, energy and water, infectious diseases and “at the cutting edge”.
It was sent to just a few teachers for their feedback ahead of its release for consultation next month, but some were so worried by the content they leaked it to their peers.
Teachers who had seen the document told RNZ they had grave concerns about it. It was embarrassing, and would lead to “appalling” declines in student achievement, they said.
One said the focus on four specific topics was likely to leave pupils bored with science by the time they reached secondary school.
But another teacher told RNZ the document presented a “massive challenge” to teachers and the critics were over-reacting.
“It’s the difference from what’s existed before and the lack of content is what’s scaring people. It’s fear of the unknown,” he said.
Okay. I contrast that with the Minnesota public school curriculum, which delineates the big three science subjects of physics, chemistry, and biology — there’s a year dedicated to each of those, a very traditional approach. But obviously, that’s too broad to be practical, and we also have a more detailed breakdown of what specifically needs to be taught within each.
The NZ schools would provide a different framework. Instead of the traditional topical breakdown, it’s centered around broader themes and questions. Is that bad? The real test is in the details of implementation. They could also have science standards that are identical to Minnesotas, for instance, but placed within an interdisciplinary program (that’s what I see in those five contexts, which are all interrelated and overlapping with physics, chemistry, and biology). It sounds like it would be hard to do well, especially in comparison to well-established curricula, but the devil is in the details, and I’m not seeing any details anywhere, as is unsurprising if this is just a leaked draft.
I guess I’m interested in the fact that three of their five categories (biodiversity, food, energy and water, and infectious diseases) are so solidly built around biology, but at the same time they’re going to have to introduce a strong background in chemistry and physics to do them well. I also feel like you can’t teach those biological aspects without any general biochemistry, and there’s no biochem explicitly spelled out in the overview. It’s got to be there somewhere in the implementation details.
Also, I would object to “at the cutting edge” as far too vague. How do you teach that? What’s the point of discussing deep details if you don’t have the basic foundation?