Wednesday, February 04, 2009

UC a-g Requirements

In California, the University of California has mandated some special requirements for high school students who'd like their high school transcripts to be accepted for admission to any college or university in the University of California system.

Mostly, these requirements seem reasonable. They keep standards up.

Then, there's requirement "d." It covers laboratory science and makes the following statement. They say that a qualifying course must:
include hands-on scientific activities that are directly related to and support the other classwork, and that involve inquiry, observation, analysis, and write-up. These hands-on activities should account for at least 20% of class time, and should be itemized and described in the course description.
In case online schools miss the point, they restate it as follows:
Online courses may be approved for credit toward the "d" requirement if they meet all the guidelines outlined above, including a supervised hands-on laboratory component comprising at least 20% of the course (e.g., UCCP courses).
I see no explanation or rationale for these statements. In fact, they have the common problem that they state means rather than ends. Therefore, a rationale would be difficult to defend.

Contrast the statements in America's Lab Report. The National Research Council wisely added a parenthetical option.
Laboratory experiences provide opportunities for students to interact directly with the material world (or with data drawn from the material world), using the tools, data collection techniques, models, and theories of science.
Later, they point out that only laboratories, as defined, provide opportunities for students to develop an understanding of the "complexity and ambiguity of empirical work." These experiences also promote a greater understanding of the nature of science and help students develop scientific reasoning skills.

America's Lab Report also points out that, for most American students, the science laboratory experience is "poor." So, why does the UC promote the continuing use of poor experiences for students in order to enter their institutions? There's nothing in the oversight of science courses that prevents the lab experiences from being the usual "poor." Instead, there's just the outdated requirement that all lab experiences be "hands-on."

From this requirement, we can deduce that a student who puts remote monitoring equipment in a volcano and then records and analyzes the data from it would not qualify. No, the student would be forced to be physically present at the volcano site and take all data manually right there.

With cruelly tight school budgets, California should be seeking ways to provide excellent science laboratory experience without the high costs of traditional science labs. At the same time, the UC should be doing what it can to ensure that student science lab experiences are better than "poor."

It's time to leave behind the 19th century experimental experiences that most students must endure. We have great tools available today that can improve learning and allow for accountability. I'm not speaking of the fake science of simulations. Simulations belong in the same category as videos and demonstrations. They can help students to visualize concepts. They don't provide an adequate science experience.

Although it predates America's Lab Report, the Smart Science® education system follows its guidelines and is the only online science lab system yet to do so.

California can help its schools save money and improve science education at the same time by using this remarkable patented technology in its schools. At least, the UC should get out of the way and allow high-quality innovations such as this one to be used in schools.

© 2009 by Smart Science Education Inc., U.S.A. www.smartscience.netFollow this author on ETC Journal.