The UCP Science Draft is Not Okay

This post was first published by Deirdre Bailey, MEd and Brian Gilbert, BSc & BEd on May 7, 2021 on https://savouringtheish.wordpress.com/2021/05/07/the-ucp-science-draft-is-not-okay/

Unlike the Social Studies draft, the issues with the UCP Science curriculum proposal are a little more subtle at first glance. It is, however, no less problematic. This draft is much more prescriptive than the current curriculum, with many learning outcomes being phrased in such a way that there are clear implications for how teachers and students might take up a particular topic (i.e. a lot of diagram drawing). There is a very utilitarian undertone to the draft that frames science primarily as a tool for human profit rather than a curiosity-driven investigative approach to learning about the world and our place in it. The natural world is presented very hierarchically (with humans consistently characterized as “above” and/or “separate” from other living organisms where possible). The outcomes are VERY specific (lots and lots and lots of lists) which allows for a worryingly exclusionary approach to some of the learning outcomes. Every single FNMI reference appears at the bottom of a list as an after-thought and is clearly presented as “distinct” from the rest of the outcomes. Connections between topics (and even between outcomes within a single topic) are very weak or ignored completely. Many of the distinctions between “Knowledge”, “Understanding” and “Skills and Procedures” are muddled or non-existent. In general, the “Knowledge” outcomes include lists of things to memorize, the “Understanding” outcomes offer a bunch of vague, single-sentence statements loosely related to the topic, and the “Skills and Procedures” suggest some “to-dos” mostly using verbs like “Summarize, Identify, Describe, Explain”. The Science curriculum is also consistent with the rest of the draft in that it includes plenty of age inappropriate content and several glaring inaccuracies.

What follows is by no means a comprehensive review (there’s LOTS more wrong with this curriculum than what has been outlined here). This is an overview of just a few of the most glaring issues that jumped out in our initial read through of each grade and outcome. Our intent is to provide a clear sense of why piloting this curriculum in Alberta classrooms would be deeply inappropriate and even negligent from a professional perspective. 

Organizing Idea 1 – Matter: Understandings of the physical world are deepened through investigating matter and energy

K – While not awful outright, this section gives a first taste of how hyper-specific and limiting the lists of learning outcomes get. Of note in particular here is that children are required to sort, categorize, or order objects based on properties that include colour, size, shape, and texture (all of which have been used to differentiate people historically). It is also possible to sort objects by temperature, sound, smell, etc., yet none of these were included as examples. Why?

Grade 1 – The word mass is used multiple times in this section. I assume that by “mass” they mean weight since there’s no way they are actually having Grade 1 students discuss mass… Are they? Also the first time a description of mass is provided in the document is in grade 5. 

Directly compare the size, length, area, and mass of various objects.” First, students are not expected to calculate or express area in the Math curriculum until Grade 4… Second, the only tools suggested for this task in the curriculum are a balance scale and a magnifying glass…?

Explain why [physical changes] do not affect the composition of an object.” Given the grade level, and the fact that for obvious reasons students have not yet discussed the difference between chemical and physical properties, what exactly are we expecting 6 year olds to talk about here?

This section also repeatedly lists “size” as a property (along with length and shape), after defining both length and shape as sub-properties of size in the Math curriculum. It is clear that the different subjects were written without any regard for interdisciplinary congruence. 

Grade 2 – If Kindergarten was all about listing properties, and Grade 1 was about modifying the properties, Grade 2 is quite literally focused almost exclusively on how natural materials can be exploited or processed for human gain.

Grade 3 – The most glaring concern for me here is the series of outcomes dedicated to a discussion of volume, a concept that doesn’t appear in the Math curriculum until Grade 6. Also why does a vague attempt to define volume only appear at the end of the list of knowledge outcomes?

Also of note, in Grade 3 students are expected to know that “Changes to materials can be permanent or reversible, depending on the properties of the given materials.” This would usually come way before the stuff in grade 1..

Grade 4 – In which required “Skills and Procedures” include both: “Research the environmental impact of different methods of waste management.” and “Represent the recycling process using diagrams.” The inconsistency in expectations here is incredible. 

Grade 5 – We finally get a definition of mass but it is a sub-par definition that will inevitably lead to misconceptions. Of note is the fact that the word mass appears zero times in the current K-6 curriculum. This was intentional. At the very least the writers of this draft should have shared a rationale for including this challenging concept in elementary school science? What are we expecting from students here and why? 

Grade 5 students are also expected to know that “Density is a measurement that compares the mass of a solid, liquid, or gas to its volume.” Please note that the Math curriculum still hasn’t touched on volume… 

Grade 6 – “Predict what would happen to plants and animals living in bodies of water if solid water (ice) were more dense than liquid water..” This is a knowledge outcome masquerading as a “Skill”.

Organizing Idea 2 – Energy: Understandings of the physical world are deepened through investigating matter and energy.

K – “Movement is a change in an object’s position that happens over time.” This is very poorly worded. What if I walk away, then turn and walk back to the exact same position. No movement?

Also, this series of outcomes is so weak, redundant and utterly disconnected from the “Organizing Idea”. 

Grade 1 – “Speed can be stopped.” Speed is a rate of change. So while speed can be reduced to zero to put an object at rest, no, speed cannot be “stopped.” I get that this feels pedantic but it really is important in a teacher-facing document like this.

Grade 2  – “Change in the rate of vibration can alter pitch.” Honestly I can’t begin to imagine unpacking this outcome with Grade 2s… What is vibration? What is rate? What is pitch? What is change in rate? What is rate of vibration? How is this connected to pitch? These kids are still learning to write complete sentences.. Yikes. 

Characteristics of materials that affect the production of sound vibration can include: size, texture, shape, type.” The inconsistencies in the way this document chooses to list properties of materials is incredibly frustrating. Sometimes they include colour, sometimes shape, sometimes “size”, area or volume and/or height, width and length. There is no coherence or clear rationale. Also, what do they mean by “type”. Wouldn’t changing the type of object just be a different object?

Grade 3 – All the discussions of forces and laws of motion are way above a grade 3 level. It is extremely confusing that students are expected to “learn” about contact forces before exploring simple machines (note: simple machines have been relegated to a “procedure”here too –> “Represent contact force in relation to the use of simple machines through diagrams.”) Opportunities for hands on learning seem to be frequently and deliberately overlooked in large sections of this curriculum.

Grade 4 – This whole section essentially boils down to “Magnets exist. Gravity and magnetism are similar. Now pick up this paperclip with a fridge magnet.”  (Interdisciplinary BONUS* – locate gravity on the globe – see SS draft).

Also, grade 4 students are supposed to “Discuss properties that can affect how a non-contact force acts on an object include the object’s mass and the type of material it is made from” but please note; still no actual definition of mass…

Grade 5 – Buoyancy is incorrect here. It claims to only be a force acting on liquids. Someone should inform balloons…

Grade 6 – “Identify the force(s) that are acting on an object during a specific interaction.” I would really like to know what they have in mind here. Are they expecting 11 year olds to make free body diagrams of forces?

Everything listed in the energy resources section is way beyond grade 6. I have friends doing PhD theses on this kind of stuff.

Also, what’s this about: “Energy use may have environmental or economic impacts, including human-caused (anthropogenic) climate change”. There is no “may”. Fix this please, it’s the Science curriculum. 

Earth Systems: Understandings of the living world, Earth, and space are deepened through investigating natural systems and their interactions.

K – “Environment refers to physical surroundings.” – The environment is defined here (and throughout the document) as though it were a synonym for place rather than a network of interconnected living systems that sustain life on earth. 

Ways to protect the environment include reducing waste, reusing, recycling, not littering” – As mentioned above, this curriculum has an awful habit of being specific in a way that allows for deliberate exclusion of certain perspectives or considerations. Here, the list limits environmental protection to individual endeavours without ever acknowledging systemic approaches to conservation that might sustain more meaningful change on a broader scale.

Grade 1 – This section centres the burden of caring for the environment on FNMI communities.

Grade 2 – “Earth’s revolution around the Sun takes a year.” and “Earth’s rotation on its axis takes a day.” This is sloppy wording. The human calendar did not precede the Earth’s rotation around its axis or around the Sun. These outcomes should read: “A day is how long it takes the Earth to rotate.” and “A year is how long it takes the Earth to revolve around the Sun.

Also, this part about “feeling a connection to a place [because its name] is in one’s first language” makes me very uncomfortable when the commonly used names of so many “places” in Canada originate from (or are named for) white settlers with very little knowledge of, or appreciation for the land they invaded. Including this section and wording it in this way is deeply inappropriate and disrespectful.

Grade 3 – Under a single “Knowledge” outcome: “Human activities that can impact the land in positive and negative ways include: living on the land, building towns and cities, getting and using resources, farming, pollution, stewardship.” Why are we lumping positive and negative impact together here? What is the rationale for listing pollution and stewardship side by side? What do we mean by “living on the land” and “getting and using resources”? 

And then in the next bullet: “Plant and animal activities that can shape landscapes include: overpopulation, using resources, parasites, plants or animals burrowing, beavers chewing down trees.” Are we really suggesting that “beavers chewing down trees” is comparable to resource extraction?

Grade 4 – In addition to the fact that this section places all of the responsibility for water protection on Indigenous peoples, the distinction between “Knowledge”, “Understanding”, and “Skills & Procedures” here is so vague it’s ridiculous. Also, this could be one of the most offensive examples of pan-Indigenizing in the entire K-6 draft.

Grade 5 – “Explain how climate can influence human activity.” I’m 100% certain this outcome should have been written the other way around in a responsible Science curriculum.

Grade 6 – “Knowledge” outcome: “Iodine can be used to indicate the presence of starch.” —> “Skills” outcome: “Design a simple experiment to show a plant contains starch.” There is no room for “design” here. 28 students will be dropping iodine onto a plant leaf, writing identical observations on identical worksheets, and calling it Science. 

Living Systems: Understandings of the living world, Earth, and space are deepened through investigating natural systems and their interactions.

K – not included

Grade 1 – “Science classifies humans as animals.” This is very strange wording…

I also find the strictly utilitarian approach to learning about plants and animals with a clear lack of regard for or acknowledgement of any reciprocity in the relationship more than a little disturbing. 

Grade 2 – Once again, individuality is emphasized over collective action. Additionally, we return to the “othering” of Indigenous populations with “Some First Nations, Métis, and Inuit have perspectives that consider plants and animals to be equal to human beings” as though this perspective is not deeply scientific.

Grade 3 – In which we can’t even be geographically consistent across a single thread..

Grade 4 – “How are organisms designed for survival?”  Designed?

Grade 5 – The writers are inconsistent with their use of the terms “animal” and “human” in this section and I have questions about their motivations. Also, “Human biological systems include: digestive system, respiratory system, circulatory system, musculoskeletal system” with the reproductive system noticeably absent. Why? 

Grade 6 – “Iodine can be used to indicate the presence of starch” is a very random and specific outcome. Also didn’t we just “do” that in the “Earth Systems” section? (We did.) It is clearly of the utmost importance that Grade 6 students play with iodine and plants.

Space: Understandings of the living world, Earth, and space are deepened through investigating natural systems and their interactions.

K, G1, G2, G3
 – none

Grade 4 – This section includes the gem “The Sun is not observable at night.”

Also, “Most of society follows the Western (Gregorian) calendar in daily life” is an inappropriate outcome. Why is this in the Science curriculum? Who is “society”? And what do they mean by “most”? 

Grade 5 – As mentioned above, one of the things I struggle with the most with this curriculum is the inconsistency in the way the writers list similar criteria/phenomena/characteristics. Here students are supposed to “know” a list of astronomical phenomena that includes: “seasonal changes, length of daylight, Moon phases, lunar and solar eclipses and “lights” (auroras)” and then in the very next outcome, they reorder the list, omit the aurora (which arguably didn’t belong in this category in the first place) and toss in: “comets, equinoxes and solstices, solar activity, meteor showers.”

Grade 6 – In which we have the incredibly vague outcome: “The solar system is a complex system with many components.” and also the ridiculously specific (and arguably irrelevant) “Discuss why Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet.”

Computer Science: Problem solving and scientific inquiry are developed through the knowledgeable application of creativity, design, and computational thinking.

K/G1 – none

Grade 2 – Places boundaries on creativity and design while overemphasizing the importance of following directions unquestioningly.

Grade 3 – In which the word “creativity” is used 14 times but students are not actually asked to create anything. 

Grade 4 – “Design an artifact that considers the design requirements.” This is a ridiculously worded outcome. “Use skill development to develop skill.”  

Grade 5 – It is madness that we are defining code and different types of languages before discussing binary or anything that computers actually care about. Also, I would hate to see a teacher with no coding experience try to use any of this section of the curriculum to plan instruction.

Grade 6 – In which students continue to learn about computer science, largely without doing any computer science. Note: computers not required…

Scientific Methods: Investigation of the physical world is enhanced through the use of scientific methods that attempt to remove human biases and increase objectivity.

K/G1 – none

Grade 2 – The method described through these sections presents a surface level view of the scientific process. The outcomes reflect limited and outdated understandings of what constitutes scientific research and the overt emphasis on quantitative data collection presents a very rigid and limited view of what science is.

Also, “Data that can be combined must be collected using similar procedures.” This is incorrect (as anyone who has used mixed methods research can tell you).

Grade 3 – “Discuss the trustworthiness of sources of information or data.” It is inappropriate to be asking students to “discuss the trustworthiness of information or data” without providing any guidance on how to do this. 

Grade 4 – “Only conclusions drawn from reliable and valid data and evidence, and analyzed using scientific methods, are trustworthy.” More prioritizing of quantitative research methods while perpetuating the notion that objectivity is easily achievable through emotionless adherence to established procedure.

Grade 5 – “Determine if evidence and conclusions are free from bias” and “Choose investigational methods that remove the potential for human biases.” This is deeply inappropriate and unscientific. NOTHING is free from bias. Scientists often strive to ensure that the findings and results hold up beyond bias.

Grade 6 – More of the same really. “Explanations should be constructed using reliable, objective data and evidence”“Only scientific experiments performed with objectivity and a high level of accuracy produce trustworthy evidence to support explanations”, and “Not all scientific experiments are completed with the same level of objectivity and accuracy”. This section is really just about objectivity and not about science.

I would like to also point out that there are no FNMI connections at all in “Scientific Methods”.

#trashthedraft #demandbetter #writeyourMLA

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