The Maine Department of Education (MDOE) is currently accepting public comment on its revised learning standards for Science as part of a routine process required by state law.
A public hearing will also be held on October 30 at 3pm at the Burton Cross Office Building — located at 111 Sewall Street in Augusta — in Room 600. The hearing can also be accessed via Zoom here.
Overview of the Changes
The content of Maine’s Science standards has remained largely unchanged after this year’s revisions aside from a handful of language alterations and the addition of some grade-specific illustrative examples.
Instead, it is in the introduction to where the main substantive changes can be found.
Most prominently, the revised standards now include a new section in the introduction titled Science as a Human Endeavor expressing the idea that science encompasses the “exploration and collection of scientific knowledge within the context of society and diverse cultures,” as well as the ways that science has historically been used for both good and evil.
“These instances serve as reminders that science, like any human endeavor, can be influenced by power dynamics and must be guided by ethical principles and a commitment to social justice,” the new subsection argues.
Other revisions in the introduction include trimming out excess detail from a subsection on scientific controversy, as well as replacing a focus on scientific literacy with an emphasis on cross cutting concepts.
A Closer Look At The Changes
Included in the revised introduction are specific references to technology and engineering in the very first paragraph — something that has previously been missing — as well as updated language concerning the broad goals that the MDOE has for Maine students’ education in the sciences.
The revisions struck a clause stating the aim of “enabling [students] to be creative and practical problem solvers” and added to the following sentence an expression of the hope that students’ education will help them to “make informed decisions based on data and evidence.”
That original sentiment included in this section has now been moved to a later subsection titled Becoming Critical and Engaged Consumers of Science and Engineering.
The next subsection — initially titled Science and Engineering Literacy — has now been almost entirely replaced with a new section pertaining to cross cutting concepts in science.
For the purposes of this subsection, cross cutting concepts are defined as “concepts that come from interrelated knowledge from across various science fields.”
“Identifying the cross-cutting concepts as conceptual understandings has not changed the core content or expectations,” the standards say. “To effectively understand and evaluate science knowledge, learners must also develop an understanding of science and engineering practices, engineering design, and the impact of this information on society and their own lives.”
“Learners should apply that knowledge in a new context and make informed decisions,” according to the standards.
The next subsection — which concerns scientific controversy — was dramatically shortened to remove the plethora of examples that it previously contained.
The revised standards also include a new section titled Science as a Human Endeavor.
“Science as a human endeavor encompasses the exploration and collection of scientific knowledge within the context of society and diverse cultures,” the standards read. “Equity should be prioritized as a critical component in all educational efforts.”
“Through communication, science can foster collaboration of work from many stakeholders from diverse backgrounds. In many instances, scientific advancements have improved the quality of life, expanded our understanding of the universe, and addressed pressing global challenges,” the new language says.
“Science, technology, engineering and society influence each other, and the backgrounds of scientists can have an impact on the nature of their findings,” the standards read.
“Science has also sometimes been used by those in power to oppress and abuse others, as happened when the eugenics movement promoted pseudo-scientific ideas to support deliberate discrimination and genocide,” the section says.
“A Maine example is the displacement of inter-racial communities in the southern part of the state and the involuntary imprisonment of people in The Maine School for the Feeble Minded,” the standards read. “These instances serve as reminders that science, like any human endeavor, can be influenced by power dynamics and must be guided by ethical principles and a commitment to social justice.”
Throughout the rest of the standards — which outline specific learning objectives for students belonging to different age groups and grade levels — there are a number of small alterations made to the phrasing, but overall there were no major changes to the content.
There were also a number of places where illustrative examples were added to clarify what teaching to the standard could look like in practice.
Similar to the changes wrought in the state’s Social Studies standards, references to the Wabanaki Nations have been incorporated where applicable, primarily within the MDOE’s suggestions to educators as to how the various standards could be taught to students.
For instance, when teaching fourth grade students how to “use evidence to construct an
explanation relating the speed of an object to the energy of that object,” the MDOE proposes that teachers reference Wabanaki snow skates alongside examples such as “coasting on a bike down a hill” and “how bumping into someone or something when walking or running changes speed.”
Similarly, there are now a number of places where Maine-specific connections have been added to the standards as potential illustrative devices for teachers to use with their students.
For example, when teaching fourth graders that “animals receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain and respond to the information in different ways,” the MDOE now suggests that educators could demonstrate this concept to their students by describing how “coyotes communicate via sound with each other and with territory marking,” as well as how “Atlantic salmon use smell to find their way back up rivers to their breeding locations.”