With current textbooks 'obsolete,' Palo Alto's middle schools to get new science materials | News | Palo Alto Online |


With current textbooks 'obsolete,' Palo Alto's middle schools to get new science materials

Board members voice support for new textbook, selection process

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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.


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15 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 24, 2020 at 4:00 pm

Wonder why w a budget like PAUSD's, spending the highest $$/student in the state for a comparable district, over $20k/year, that PAUSD did not get up to date science books for our kids earlier. Making sure to put the $$s in their own pockets first?

15 people like this
Posted by PA Middle School Student
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 25, 2020 at 8:46 am

Wouldn't it be more economical as well as environmental to eliminate ALL textbooks and simply have the information available online via iPad, laptop etc.?

Plus...kids wouldn't have to lug around heavy backpacks filled with stupid books.

Like this comment
Posted by Random Scientist
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 25, 2020 at 1:49 pm

@PA Middle School Student -- it's a combination print and digital offering.

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by DIY Science
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2020 at 3:37 pm

Suggestions for homeschooling types looking for science textbooks during the elementary and middle-school years.

We went with Bernard Nebel's textbooks, and there's a caveat: parents must read the material first, before teaching the science to kid(s). It requires more of the stereotypical homeschooling scenario with the parent teaching the kid(s).

Nebel has three textbooks covering k-2, 3-5, and 6-8. Previous users suggest, even for older kids, going back and starting at book one (from kindergarten), so that's what we did. My kid finished the third textbook in 6th grade and didn't do regular lab-type science for two years. Instead, the focus shifted to history of science books by Joy Hakim.

Despite not doing lab science for two years, and not reviewing for the CAASPP science test in 8th grade, my kid scored well in the "Standard Exceeded" range. The Nebel books had a lot to do with that. Kids learn by doing experiments using household items (generally), going outside and looking at Nature, and taking notes. You can also incorporate online science videos.

PAUSD would probably not consider textbooks by Nebel, but his textbooks provide a pretty solid grounding in scientific learning.

12 people like this
Posted by Rich
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2020 at 7:10 pm

There seem to be several problems here.

Why are the current science books 'obsolete'? What were the metrics that made it metrics? Without any justification offered, this decision seems to be arbitrary.

That the proposed text received a luke warm meh review, supported by a slim margin of reviewers, and yet pausd is eager to spend $800M!? Why is this?

This new book seems to be on Shakey ground and it's not even here. Is this how pausd pick text for our kids? Sad.

Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 25, 2020 at 8:49 pm

That would be Bernard Nebel, Ph.D., as the book's cover prominently announces.

I immediately distrust any book whose author puts "Ph.D." after their name on the cover. It is hucksterism. They are attempting to sell the book to a trusting but naive audience based on the mystique of a graduate school degree rather than the strength of their material. Having an advanced degree is not a guarantee of professional or pedagogical competence. Prominently featuring it may in fact indicate the opposite.

Buyer beware. Judge by the book's objective reviews, not its puffery.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Feb 25, 2020 at 11:21 pm

^ Doctor of Thinkology

4 people like this
Posted by DIY Science
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2020 at 6:52 am

I have a Ph.D., which I guess makes me suspect to some posters here. I like to think, however, that a doctorate means I have the skills to evaluate texts that are reliably educational. I'm not sure if someone above is questioning whether I am looking for un-reliable material that supports a religious view of science simply because I've mentioned homeschooling. There is a false belief that homeschoolers are religious types.

Using Nebel's books, which require a more active vs. passive approach to learning, resulted in my kid earning 97% of the total points on the CAASPP science test given to 8th graders. This occurred even though my kid hadn't been doing lab science for two years after completing Nebel, and so I'm merely suggesting that parents might want to take a look at the Nebel books if they're interested in a more self-directed approach to learning science. They don't have to be year-round homeschoolers. They could do so over summer break. I don't think the school district would choose such a text, and maybe most PAUSD students are scoring higher than my kid did, but I don't view Nebel as a huckster.

6 people like this
Posted by Call Me Doctor If You Will
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 26, 2020 at 8:14 am

"Prominently featuring it may n fact indicate the opposite."

The Ph.Ds who demand or expect to be called 'doctor' in public outside of academia are the true hucksters.

I have a neighbor with a Ph.D in sociology & he wants to be called doctor by everyone...his gardener, CVS & grocery clerks & Lyft/Uber drivers.

What a pompous bag of wind!

2 people like this
Posted by DIY Science
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 26, 2020 at 8:51 am

Most Ph.D.'s I know never want to be called "Doctor." Yes, it can seem pompous. Agreed. Most people have no clue that I have a Ph.D., and I would never want someone to call me "doctor." On the other hand, we do evaluate sources for credibility, and a Ph.D. next to an author's name signals that they've spent a significant amount of time learning about and probably teaching their subject. Paying attention to that is one among a number of factors to consider when evaluating the source of information. You'd want to note that when reviewing a science textbook. I don't think Nebel listed his Ph.D. to offend or declare a sense of absolute superiority over anyone.

IMHO, we live in an age when titles that simply signify rank, rather than specialist knowledge or certification, should be called into question even more. Here's looking at: king, queen, prince, princess, duke, lord, lady, etc. etc. Let's get rid of "royal" or "noble" titles of all kinds. Those seem much more pompous than "Doctor." If we have to go in for surgery, we do want someone with a title/certification next to their name.

2 people like this
Posted by Call Me Doctor If You Will
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 26, 2020 at 9:16 am

"Let's get rid of "royal" or "noble" titles of all kinds. Those seem much more pompous than "Doctor." If we have to go in for surgery, we do want someone with a title/certification next to their name."

^^^In the United States, there are no royal or noble titles.

You must be referring to Great Britain and other countries that still acknowledge royalty or noble lineages.

Besides, most kings, queens & princes/princesses are not in the surgery field...they have private physicians who go by 'Dr.' or 'MD".

On a side note...

It's generally the insecure boobs with Ph.Ds in the social sciences who demand being called doctor in public.

After all & it has been noted many times before that the social science are NOT a true science because the results often vary or are not the same even under identical conditions.

While a sociologist might refer to a group of individuals as 'type' (along with politically correct considerations), an ignorant person often bases his/her perspectives on 'stereotype' which in many instances is identical sans the PC.

Social science (i.e. sociology, psychology, anthropology et al) are essentially 'sciences' of the OBVIOUS while the field of economics is a science of the OBVIOUS but with charts & graphs.

IMO & FWIW...it's OK to be in the physical or biological sciences & prefer to be called Dr.

On the other hand, it is a stretch to expect the same (outside of academia) if one's Ph.D is in the behavioral sciences or business administration.

Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 27, 2020 at 6:37 pm

"... a Ph.D. next to an author's name signals that they've spent a significant amount of time learning about and probably teaching their subject."

Many people understandably mistake a Ph.D. as evidence of deep broad expertise. Not so. Earning a Ph.D. entails a very deep dive into a highly narrowed thesis topic. Having one does not certify expertise beyond the confines of that delimited topic.

The breadth needed to write a proper survey textbook comes from the professional experience gained after earning the degree. Boasting about having a Ph.D. on the cover of that book is therefore irrelevant at best, and it easily crosses into hucksterism.

It may be a very fine textbook inside, but as always, be cautious when judging a book by its cover. That cover may be subtly warning you.

Like this comment
Posted by member 1
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 27, 2020 at 9:26 pm

OK. funny Dr. discussion.

I would love to see actual current labs, current lab reporting criteria, current science best practices and an approved person to approve labs so children will not get hurt. It would be so fun to spend the money on some new amazing thing like an anatomy glass cadaver table or the 3 dimensional presentation systems for chemicals. Just could be more fun than a textbook that can not be as fun as some of the really fun toys that could be bought that would make a kid love to use and go to class for. Most schools have a lab person to approve labs. Making a T shirt with an element is not a lab, it is an art project. Students are not prepared for college or High school. Now... al the labs are done online and corrected online by a robot. These are not labs. These are fun cartoons that everyone has done and results are all posted already for kids to cut an paste without effort or excitement. There is no smell color, three dimensional fun or temp change in person. I hope one of you doctors can put labs first and forget about a text. The teacherd do not really use the texts anyhow. They refer to Kahn academy or Bozeman Science. They are good, but at different levels and how many times can they watch the Bozeman guy explaing the Krebs cycle without taking drugs to get through it.Just my non doctorate opinion.

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