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Science textbooks get failing grade

October 13, 1999
Web posted at: 1:58 p.m. EDT (1758 GMT)


Every single widely used middle school science textbook got a failing grade in an evaluation conducted by the nation's largest organization of scientists.

The evaluation, conducted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, found that most textbooks cover too many topics and don't develop any of them well.

On top of that, the books are chock full of classroom activities that are either irrelevant to learning key science ideas or don't help students relate what they are doing to underlying ideas.

One textbook, for example, asked students to trace a diagram of energy flow in a plant in order to convey the concept of photosynthesis. "What does that mean?" asked Mary Koppal, a spokeswoman for the organization of scientists.

Two independent teams of middle school teachers, curriculum specialists and professors of science education conducted the evaluation. The teams rated how well textbooks for middle grades can help students learn a predetermined set of key ideas in earth sciences, life sciences and physical science.

"This study probed beyond the usual superficial alignment by topic heading," Jo Ellen Roseman, the study's leader, said in a statement. "Instead, it examined the text's quality of instruction aimed specifically at key ideas using criteria drawn from the best available research about how students learn."

While a competent and effective teacher is able to convey scientific concepts to students regardless of the textbook, the state of modern education demands more from the textbooks.

"The fact is the quality of the textbook is more and more important when we have teachers teaching out of their field," said Koppal.

"Because textbooks are the backbone of classroom instruction, we must demand improvement so that our students can acquire the knowledge and skills they will need for more advanced learning," George Nelson, director of the project that spurred the study, added in a statement.

The organization of scientists will send detailed reports of their evaluation to the creators of science textbooks and make the reports available to middle school teachers who use the textbooks so that they might be able to make up for the textbooks' shortcomings in their lesson plans.

Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved

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