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Posted: 06/18/14

RCS explores new options
for science classes

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Romeo Community Schools is looking to experiment with new ways to offer science education to its high school students.
       The Board of Education received a preview of how science curriculum will look in the coming years during a presentation held June 2.
       Laura Rienas, chair for the high school's science department and member of the district's K-12 science committee, gave an overview of how the subject is currently taught at the high school level and where it will go in the future.
       She said content expectations are provided by the Michigan Department of Education for grades 8-12, calling it a "sit and get" style of teaching as opposed to lab work. She said in chemistry alone there are around 175 pieces that have to be taught.
       "Because there is so much content that has to be covered that is currently covered on the MME (Michigan Merit Exam) we have to get through it," Rienas said. "We still do the labs, but things are more cookie-cutter now."
       Students are required to take three science courses before graduating. Freshman split their year between biology and chemistry, sophomores take biology and juniors take chemistry or physics.
       Rienas said the district is looking toward the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a multi-state program that offers new standards based on studies of the top 10 best-performing countries in science.
       She said NGSS focuses on the areas of practices, content and cross cutting. Scientific inquiry is included as well as engineering pieces, meaning students are given a problem, they develop a model and answer questions based on those models.
       "You're going from 100-something (standards) to 50 or less . . . but with the content we can get into it more," she said.
       Rienas said the state has not adopted NGSS, and it won't likely go up for a vote until the end of the year. Regardless, she said the district may use its inquiry-based practices while offering new courses like astronomy.
       "Not everybody loves science, not everybody can take chem or physics," she said. "We're looking at a couple of different options."
       The NGSS suggests changes in the order of when subjects are taught, such as offering physics first.
       Assistant Superintendent Eric Whitney said in addition to the NGSS, the district has researched the top 15 districts in the state that perform well on standardized testing. He said this has shown that Romeo's ninth-grade biology and chemistry is "problematic."
       The spring 2013 MME scores revealed 27.4 percent of Romeo's grade 11 students were proficient in science, just above the state average of 25.7 percent. The 2014 MME scores will be out later this summer.
       "Essentials of biology and chemistry is not accomplishing exactly what we want it to do, and it is also, I feel, slowing down some of our kids who want to accelerate in their science curriculum," he said.
       Whitney said the science and curriculum committees will bring forward a recommendation in the fall to the board to change course sequencing.
       The district currently runs Advanced Placement courses for chemistry, biology and physics, with about 70 percent of the enrolled students taking the final exam for college credit.
       Rienas said to bolster advanced programming there is consideration for bringing biology to eighth grade, similar to how algebra and foreign languages are offered.
      
K-12 science

       Rienas said the science committee is looking to develop curriculum to become more cohesive and consistent throughout all grade levels.
       "Students in general today they don't want to think for themselves, they want the answer right away, they're used to that," she said. "Some of that scientific inquiry piece has been lost, and I think if we can bring that back to them that will make a huge difference."
       The 2013 Michigan Education Assessment Program (MEAP) scores showed 15 percent of Romeo's fifth-grade students proficient in science and 25 percent in eighth-grade.
       Board President Ed Sosnoski credited the science department for looking at new ways of thinking and exploring different avenues.
       "We need to harness these types of ideas, this type of positive thinking, but more importantly, we need to figure out a way how to promote that outside of the district so we can bring new kids in," he said.


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