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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

Topic: science

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July 2, 2014 at 5:00 AM

It ain’t rocket science: Early experiments key to school success

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

Nancy Ohanian / Op Art

We’ve heard plenty about the lousy performance of U.S. students in math and science, with accompanying alarm bells about future economic implications. A recent Education Lab story provides a case in point.

Now comes a raft of research suggesting that better science education could reap rewards even greater than creating an army of chemists.

The Education Commission of the States, a nonpartisan policy center, has years of data showing that early education in science and math may be even more important to — and predictive of — future academic success than reading skills.

Here’s why: Science, even at the most basic level, requires reflection and explanation (providing a boost to vocabulary). It also involves identifying patterns, combining measurements and problem-solving — all key for math.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: early learning, science

December 24, 2013 at 5:00 AM

Powerful chemistry: ‘rock-star scientists’ teaching teachers

Every district wants to improve student performance as efficiently as possible. Scientists and educators at the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle say they’ve found a way — at least in chemistry and biology: Bring scientists to middle schools and have them teach the teachers.

“There’s tons of data out there about the number of science and math teachers who don’t have a science or math degree,” said Dana Riley Black, director of the institute’s Center for Inquiry Science. “But now they have these rock-star scientists at the table, and teachers learn all kinds of new content.”

State test scores suggest that student performance improved after the institute’s training, which takes place in two-day sessions three times per year. In the last 10 years, districts from Seattle to Tacoma to Snoqualmie Valley have signed on. But the biggest difference, the one that got researchers truly excited, was the jump in test scores among low-income students.

A study by the National Science Foundation found that Seattle’s s high-poverty schools improved their science scores by more than 36 percent.


Comments | More in News | Topics: science, STEM, teaching

December 16, 2013 at 5:00 AM

What a geologist can teach us about better science education


WWU geology professor Scott Linneman, left, with former students Joe Butorac and Adam Shier. Photo courtesy Matty Photography

Here’s a novel idea that could flip high-school science education on its head:

Instead of teaching biology as the first course for high-school freshmen, start instead with physics.

That’s one of the many ideas burbling from the mind of Scott Linneman, a geology professor at Western Washington University.

Earlier this year, Linneman was chosen as the state Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

In addition to his geology work, Linneman plays an important role in helping to teach K-12 student-teachers how to teach science in an engaging way. We chatted with Linneman recently about teaching geology, preparing new teachers for the field and the best ways to improve science education:

Q: Why did you become a geology professor?

A: I became a geologist probably because it was something I knew almost nothing about, growing up in central Illinois — I’d never had an earth science class, ever, so when I was first exposed to it at Carleton College it was an entirely new world to me, and I loved the problem solving, the historical aspect of it…Halfway through grad school, I realized I loved TA’ing (working as a teaching assistant), and I could see ways to improve student learning…


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: engineering, geology, math

October 25, 2013 at 4:51 PM

Washington outranks Finland in new test score analysis


Click on the graphic to see the full report.

In a new study of test scores, Washington outscored Finland in math.  Yes, you read that right.

We may wring our hands over how many students fail our state’s mathematics exams, but a new analysis suggests that eighth-graders here score higher than their counterparts in Finland, which is considered one of the world’s academic powerhouses.


Comments | More in Math and science, News | Topics: Finland, international comparisons, math