Since California adopted the new Next Generation Science Standards four years ago, teachers in Palo Alto Unified have made do with "obsolete" textbooks by using supplemental resources and their own materials.
An advisory committee is now recommending that the district approve a new science textbook, Amplify Science, to be rolled out to all sixth, seventh and eighth graders. On Tuesday, school board members expressed support for the group's recommendation and praised the selection process.
"Such a robust evaluation makes our job easier," Vice President Shounak Dharap said.
The district convened the middle school science textbook selection advisory committee, made up of 21 science teachers, community members, students and administrators, in 2018 to select curricula to pilot, design the pilot and then make a recommendation based on the results. The group narrowed down from 13 state-approved instructional materials to two programs, TCI's Bring Science Alive and McGraw Hill's California Inspire Science, to pilot at the three middle schools last spring. For each book, at least half of each school's science department participated in the pilot.
The results, however, were "inconclusive," according to a staff report, so the district extended the pilot into fall 2019 and chose two more curricula to test out. They selected Amplify Science and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt's Science Dimensions because they were newly reviewed by EdReports, an independent nonprofit that evaluates instructional materials. Of the six middle schools science textbooks that EdReports reviewed in its first round of the new middle school science materials, only Amplify Science met expectations for alignment to the state's science standards.
Developed in partnership with UC Berkeley's Lawrence Hall of Science, Amplify Science is described as blending "hands-on investigations, literacy-rich activities, and interactive digital tools to empower students to think, read, write, and argue like real scientists and engineers," the curriculum website reads. It "engages students in a relevant, real-world problem where they investigate scientific phenomena, engage in collaboration and discussion, and develop models or explanations in order to arrive at solutions."
In Palo Alto, teachers gave mostly "fair" and "good" ratings to Amplify Science. In comments, some were enthusiastic, describing it as well aligned with the state standards, "well-organized" and engaging "many student(s) who reported they hated science in the past," while others had reservations. Some teachers said the curriculum was "text heavy," redundant and lacking hands-on activities. (Students also gave feedback to the committee that Amplify Science should be supplemented with additional hands-on activities, according to the staff report.)
Of 19 teachers who piloted the curriculum, just over half — 11 — said Amplify Science largely met their needs.
The committee's vote to recommend Amplify Science was nearly unanimous, with 11 members voting in support and one person against it.
The new curricula will cost in total about $850,000 over eight years, including a phased implementation and an additional science supplement teachers have been using for the last two years, according to the staff report. Training for middle school teachers is set to start this spring, and will continue over the summer with a cost of approximately $24,900. The district plans for teachers to meet over the summer to create a shared curriculum sequence and learning targets as well as additional hands-on learning opportunities.
The board is set to vote on the recommended science curriculum at its next meeting in March.
In other business Tuesday, the board will discuss draft budget assumptions for the year and a report on high schoolers' college and career readiness, among other items. The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.