Friday, January 16, 2015

Proposed science standards will prepare students for STEM success

My name is Michael Amolins. I am a parent, science teacher, school curriculum coordinator and administrator. I am also an active research scientist at Sanford Research and Augustana College in Sioux Falls. These experiences led me to volunteer as a member of the Science Standards Work Group that helped construct the proposed K-12 South Dakota Science Standards.

I want nothing more for the children of South Dakota than for them to be prepared with the best possible STEM education we can offer. I want nothing more, but in fact expect nothing less.

As a parent, I have an obligation to my son to provide him with a future full of hopes and aspirations.

As a teacher, my job is to translate the desires of parents into palpable results that make our children capable and competitive in the STEM-centered global economy of the 21st century.

The work group established a protocol that ensured we constantly reassessed our purpose and asked ourselves whether or not the standards we were authoring were in the best interest of our state, and more importantly our children.  Throughout the writing process, we used multiple resources, including the Next Generation Science Standards, to help reach those end points. Below are some key questions that helped drive our efforts:

·         Does this document contain guidelines that are in the best interest of our children?
·         Would the practices and skill sets within these standards prepare our children to be competitive for STEM careers in our communities, state and region?
·         Would the implementation of these standards teach our children the critical thinking skills necessary to be curious, informed observers of their world?

Finally, looking at this as a professional research scientist, I have the expectation that this state will prepare our future workforce to be competent problem solvers, hard workers and logical thinkers. I would expect that if I hire scientists from South Dakota,  they would be just as capable as scientists from out of state. In addition, I would expect a graduate from Rapid City to be just as capable as a graduate from Pukwana, Wilmot or Wessington Springs.

The proposed standards are not content focused, but  skills focused. Essentially, they are dedicated to helping students develop the mechanics, laboratory technique and intellectual prowess to become competent, independent problem solvers.

The guidelines established provide local teachers and administrators the flexibility to adopt curriculum that adheres to the needs and interests of their communities, while also asking them to shape that curriculum around the concepts of experiment design, data assessment and time management. This represents a significant conceptual shift from previous versions of this document. The proposed standards would cease to be a checklist of specific content we require all children to learn, and instead become a means by which children develop problem solving skills any high school graduate needs to be successful in a world where STEM dominates forward progress.

These proposed standards provide the necessary guidance to prepare our children to become successful, contributing members of a society driven by science and technology.