By CAROLYN JONES, EdSource
With their emphasis on hands-on experiments, California’s new science standards have turned classrooms into noisy, messy laboratories.
That’s been popular with students and teachers who say it’s a more effective way to learn science than studying textbooks and memorizing facts, but the cost of all those underwater robots and exploding chemicals has left some teachers wondering how they can successfully implement the standards with ever-restricting budgets.
“I love the new standards, I really do. But it’s so expensive, I just don’t see how it’s going to happen,” said Laura Ruiz, a science teacher at a middle school in Los Angeles Unified. “All of us teachers are spending hundreds of dollars a year of our own money to purchase supplies. Is there a cheap way to teach these standards? I’m trying to find one, but I just don’t think so.”
The new K-12 standards, called the Next Generation Science Standards, were approved by the California State Board of Education in 2013 and are gradually rolling out in districts across the state. All schools are expected to have fully implemented the new standards by spring 2019, when the state gives its first official assessments.
Hundreds of schools have already switched to the new standards, which are intended to give students a deeper understanding of scientific concepts by conducting as many as three or four science experiments a week.
But even the simplest science experiments cost money. Vinegar and baking soda for 150 middle-schoolers to make their own volcanoes costs at least $50. For a lesson on thermal energy, calcium chloride, ammonium nitrate and plastic baggies for 150 students to make their own hand-warmers can cost at least $65.
At the California Science Teachers Association conference in October, dozens of companies filled the exhibition hall hawking their Next Generation-aligned science gizmos, ranging from plastic atom models to $5,200 robotics kits.
But most of those gadgets are out of the question for teachers like Ruiz, who has a $200 annual budget for science supplies. She tries to give her students one hands-on project a week, which means she must be creative.
She’ll try to stretch out a project over several days or weeks, having the students try different variations of the same scientific principle. Or she’ll apply for grants to fund specific projects, although grant applications can take hours to complete, take months to come through and…