When studying the history of the Ottoman Empire on the European continent, my son explained to me that the revulsion and exclusion of science education pervaded throughout this Muslim society at this time in history and was one of the major influences catalyzing the empire’s downfall, dwindling dominance and final collapse in the 1900’s. Western powers such as Germany and France embracing scientific reasoning seized the moment in history and became the dominant forces in Europe.
It can be argued that as United States public school districts double-down on their efforts to reach Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), through standardized curriculums and summative testing, it begins to reek of the same disillusionment experienced by the educationally blinded Ottomans. Even with the Common Core Standards now in place complimented with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the rest of the world is moving toward the relevance and the rigor of Project-Based Models of Learning in the science classroom. The new standards cannot be laced into traditional content-based curriculum with a test-heavy reliance on assessment.
The new standards require that innovation in the classroom to be the hallmark of Project-Based Learning. Inquiry-based approaches to learning and problem solving require deeper reflection by teachers on student skills, abilities and understanding. Assessment becomes performance-based and it is on a continuum reflecting growth. Denmark, Singapore and China have embraced this new reality of science education and other nations will follow suite. To keep pace with the changing educational dynamics it is up to progressive leadership on educational reforms to help our school districts rise to this challenge.
It does not take a stretch of the imagination to perceive the gap forming between nations in knowledge, understanding and ability to cope intelligently with the complexities of problems facing society in the 21st century. The traditional content-based approach to learning science fails to address the skills, aptitudes and abilities needed to be successful in the new world economy. Project-Based Models of Learning will be the “game changer” in the world of science education. Real-world problems solved along with adherence to growth-oriented assessment, in the form of digital portfolio dossiers for example, will become the mainstay of learning in the science classroom.
Lessons learned by studying history can in some ways provide guidance for progressive thinking today. It will be a test of our commitment, as a nation, to maintain our dominance in science and technology by now addressing these needed reforms in science education. Project-Based Learning is the means through which public schools can meet these new challenges in science education in the 21st century.