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“Kimberly Kauer was worried about her 6-year-old daughter’s math skills. Her school doesn’t assign homework, and Ms. Kauer wasn’t sure which math concepts her daughter fully understood. To quell her fears, Ms. Kauer started her daughter on an online educational program for young children called DreamBox Learning. DreamBox uses interactive games to teach math and analyzes users’ progress as they complete lessons.”

The above is a quote from a July 22, 2009, article by Joseph De Avila in the Wall Street Journal. The article goes on to discuss several interactive Websites that concerned parents can access (and pay for by subscription) to test or supplement their child’s learning. The sites mentioned in this article include: Dreambox, SmartyCard, Brightstorm, and Grockit.

With a caveat about the effectiveness of these newer sites not being extensively studied, the point is made that this is a growing industry. The end of the article cites some studies suggesting “blended” learning (traditional, face-to-face teaching plus online learning) may be the most effective, at least for older students.

Gravitas Publications this year took its first steps in using online, interactive technology with the introduction of the company’s Club Services. Among the benefits of the subscription service is online testing for each chapter of the publisher’s chemistry, biology and physics textbooks. Textbooks are currently available in all three subjects for kindergarten through third grade level and for fourth grade through sixth grade level. There is also a chemistry text for grades seven through nine. Online tests are graded automatically and results can be printed out. Tests may be retaken as needed, and questions are shuffled each time.


This post relates to the technology and science content standards for grades 5 through 8 of the 2005 National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council. We’ll look at how Real Science-4-Kids (RS4K) and Kogs-4-Kids (K4K) texts align with these.

National Science Education Standards; Technology:  

ALL STUDENTS SHOULD DEVELOP AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE ABILITIES OF TECHNOLOGICAL DESIGN

·   Identify appropriate problems for technological design

·   Design a solution or product

·   Implement a proposed design

·   Evaluate completed technological designs or products

·   Communicate the process of technological design

ALL STUDENTS SHOULD DEVELOP UNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY

A.    Scientific inquiry and technological design have similarities and differences. Scientists propose explanations for questions about the natural world, and engineers propose solutions relating to human problems, needs, and aspirations. Technological solutions are temporary; technologies exist within nature and so they cannot contravene physical or biological principles; technological solutions have side effects; and technologies cost, carry risks, and provide benefits.

B.    Many different people in different cultures have made and continue to make contributions to science and technology.

C.    Science and technology are reciprocal. Science helps drive technology, as it addresses questions that demand more sophisticated instruments and provides principles for better instrumentation and technique. Technology is essential to science, because it provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable due to factors such as quantity, distance, location, size, and speed. Technology also provides tools for investigations, inquiry, and analysis.

D.    Perfectly designed solutions do not exist. All technological solutions have tradeoffs, such as safety, cost, efficiency, and appearance. Engineers often build in back-up systems to provide safety. Risk is part of living in a highly technological world. Reducing risk often results in new technology.

E.    Technological designs have constraints. Some constraints are unavoidable, for example, properties of materials, or effects of weather and friction; other constraints limit choices in the design, for example, environmental protection, human safety, and aesthetics.

F.    Technological solutions have intended benefits and unintended consequences. Some consequences can be predicted, others cannot.

Real Science-4-Kids meets this standard in the following ways:

Because each level of the RS4K curricula covers subjects in the same order (with more depth added for higher levels), the following alignments are generally true for Pre-Level I and Level II as well as Level I. However, specific examples are taken from Level I RS4K texts and Kogs-4-Kids™ workbooks since that age range most closely matches that of the National Standards presented here. Kogs workbooks match the subject matter of each chapter but expand that subject in the context of the book’s category (philosophy, critical thinking, history, etc.). Because information is built upon with each chapter, many types of knowledge in the standards show up in virtually all chapters. However, the key chapters for each section are shown below.

The Gravitas Kogs series has an entire workbook titled Chemistry Connects to Technology. The Kogs series also incorporates many of the knowledge points for Science and Technology in other Kogs workbooks for history, the arts, philosophy, critical thinking and language.

Understanding of the Abilities of Technological Design:

The introduction and 10 chapters of Chemistry Connects to Technology discuss how discoveries and technology design have been interwoven throughout history as technology was invented to address various needs. At the end of each chapter, the student is asked a series of questions encouraging the evaluation of how certain inventions were designed and why. At the end of the introduction, for example, the student is asked to choose one piece of technology he or she uses often, then make a list of the material used for each component. Further questions ask the student to break down one component even further: to think and write about things such as where it was made, who might have designed it, and which scientific principles would have been used in its design process.

Understandings about Science and Technology:

A.    In the Kogs-4-Kids workbook Chemistry Connects to Technology, each chapter relates to the science subject in the corresponding Real Science-4-Kids textbook. This allows students to understand how the scientific knowledge is translated into useful technology. Benefits and side effects are discusses as appropriate to each subject. For example, chapter 8 in the chemistry text explains energy molecules. The related Kogs chapter specifically discusses fats as a source of energy. The story of the development of margarine is used to illustrate several points, including that harmful side effects of hydrogenating oil were discovered years later.

B.    Inventors and scientists from numerous countries – including Sweden, Russia, Italy, Greece and the U.S. – are identified specifically throughout both Gravitas’ textbooks and Kogs workbooks.

C.   The introduction to Chemistry Connects to Technology specifically addresses the reciprocity of science and technology. An example that is used is how the accidental discovery of glass allowed magnification. That magnifcation, in turn, allowed the use of telescopes in the study of the cosmos, which developed as a branch of science. The later use of curved mirrors demonstrates the progression of technology for even better scientific discoveries.

D.   Just one of many examples is chapter 4 in the Kogs workbook Chemistry Connects to History. It discusses the ups and downs of developing a way to test acidity: from early glass probes that broke too easily, all the way through the business success of California professor Arnold Beckman, the inventor of the first modern pH meter.

E. and F. The story of the development of margarine [Chemistry Connects to Technology, chapter 8 (Fats)] is again a good example of how Gravitas books meet this part of the standard. Hydrogenation of oils provided a long list of benefits and harmful side effects were discovered years later. Benefits and drawbacks of dozens of technology inventions are discussed throughout the textbooks and Kogs workbooks.


Just last month, the University of New Mexico Cancer Center issued a news release announcing that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has selected a research team at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center to lead the tenth National Center for Systems Biology in the U.S. with a five-year, $14.5 million grant:

“This grant will bring together people from many different disciplines and backgrounds, including biologists, engineers, mathematicians and physicists at UNM, Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories,” said Janet Oliver, PhD and principal investigator of the new center, called the New Mexico Spatiotemporal Modeling Center (STMC). “Together, we expect to develop the new tools needed to understand the dynamic biochemical and spatial events that control the behavior of immune and cancer cells.”

It is helpful for home school parents and teachers to be aware of this relatively new method of scientific investigation and medical research. Systems biology is an emerging interdisciplinary field that joins biology, mathematics, engineering and the physical sciences. Using experimental and computational approaches, it builds on existing knowledge of genetic and molecular functions to study and understand biological processes in cells, tissues and organisms.

Readers of Gravitas’ blogs and articles already know that Gravitas promotes “interdisciplinary” approaches to learning. That is why the Kogs-4-Kids™ series links chemistry with other subjects such as history, philosophy and technology. We believe this promotes enhanced critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as better learning by repetition in various contexts and linking facts to real world situations. The announcement of this tenth systems biology center validates that our students need to be versed in interdisciplinary understanding.

The systems perspective brings an engineering paradigm into the science of biology to study the complex design of living things. In many ways, it is a new biology that will add much to our knowledge base, much as quantum physics extended the field of nuclear physics.

This is also a good example for children of how working scientists discover new facts and then put them into practical use, perhaps in this case producing new treatments or even cures for diseases such as cancer.


This is the third in a series of posts relating to the life science content standards for grades 5 through 8 of the 2005 National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council. We’ll look at how Real Science-4-Kids (RS4K) teaching materials align with these.

National Science Education Standards; Life Science 4:

POPULATIONS AND ECOSYSTEMS

A.    A population consists of all individuals of a species that occur together at a given place and time. All populations living together and the physical factors with which they interact compose an ecosystem.

B.    Populations of organisms can be categorized by the function they serve in an ecosystem. Plants and some microorganisms are producers – they make their own food. All animals, including humans, are consumers, which obtain food by eating other organisms. Decomposers, primarily bacteria and fungi, are consumers that use waste materials and dead organisms for food. Food webs identify the relationships among producers, consumers, and decomposers in an ecosystem.

C.   For ecosystems, the major source of energy is sunlight. Energy entering ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis. That energy then passes from organism to organism in food webs.

D.   The number of organisms an ecosystem can support depends on the resources available and abiotic factors, such as quantity of light and water, range of temperatures, and soil composition. Given adequate biotic and abiotic resources and no disease or predators, populations (including humans) increase at rapid rates. Lack of resources and other factors, such as predation and climate, limit the growth of populations in specific niches in the ecosystem.

National Science Education Standards; Life Science 5:

DIVERSITY AND ADAPTATIONS OF ORGANISMS

A.    Millions of species of animals, plants, and microorganisms are alive today. Although different species might look dissimilar, the unity among organisms becomes apparent from an analysis of internal structures, the similarity of their chemical processes, and the evidence of common ancestry.

B.    Biological evolution accounts for the diversity of species developed through gradual processes over many generations. Species acquire many of their unique characteristics through biological adaptation, which involves the selection of naturally occurring variations in populations. Biological adaptations include changes in structures, behaviors, or physiology that enhance survival and reproductive success in a particular environment.

C.   Extinction of a species occurs when the environment changes and the adaptive characteristics of a species are insufficient to allow its survival. Fossils indicate that many organisms that lived long ago are extinct. Extinction of species is common; most of the species that have lived on the earth no longer exist.

Real Science-4-Kids meets these standards in the following ways:

The National Standards for “life science” corresponds with the RS4K Biology series. Because each level of the RS4K curricula covers subjects in the same order (with more depth added for higher levels), the following alignments with the national standards are generally true for Pre-Level I as well as Level I. However, specific examples are taken from Level I texts and workbooks since that age range most closely matches that of the National Standards presented here. Because information is built upon with each chapter, many areas of knowledge in the standards show up in virtually all chapters. However, the key chapters for each section are shown below.

Life Science section 4; Populations and Ecosystems:

A.    Chapter 10 (Our Balanced World) discusses ecosystems in terms of the cycles necessary to maintain life, showing how populations and physical conditions work together. Many components of an ecosystem are taught in further detail in chapters 3 (Photosynthesis) through 9 (The Frog Life Cycle). A good specific example in chapter 5 (How a Plant Grows) is the description of how bacteria in the soil can make necessary nitrogen available to plants.

B.    The processes by which producers make their own food are discussed in detail in chapters focused on specific types of life such as chapter 3 (Photosynthesis) and chapter 5 (How a Plant Grows). How some specific consumers fit into the cycle is discussed in chapters 8 (The Butterfly Cycle) and 9 (The Frog Life Cycle). Chapter 10 (Our Balanced World) and the colorful, informative illustrations within it detail how all components work together in an ecosystem.

C.   The entire chapter 3 (Photosynthesis) is devoted to explaining photosynthesis and how this process feeds the ecosystem. Chapter 10 (Our Balanced World) describes the food cycle in words and illustration.

D.   The fact that Earth is a delicately balanced ecosystem that contains innumerable smaller, delicately balanced ecosystems is discussed in general terms in chapter 10 (Our Balanced World). Details of ecosystem limitations are not discussed in this text but may be addressed in either the upcoming Level II Biology materials and/or the “B” series for Pre-Level I and Level I.

Life Science section 5; Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms:

A.    A detailed discussion of how all life forms are classified by their similarities and differences is presented in chapter 1 (Living Creatures). RS4K is careful about using the term “common ancestry,” as it can have multiple meanings. RS4K introduces students to the common features found in all living creatures, such as DNA, RNA, and proteins. Also, Gravitas materials acknowledge a central axiom of biology that “life begets life” and, as such, current living organisms have come from common ancestral organisms. However, how far back the ancestral organisms derive is not clearly known and, therefore, Gravitas materials leave this question open.

B.    Gravitas materials recognize that living creatures evolve – that is, change over time – in that they do and have adapted to influences and conditions over time. For example, we know that today some bacteria can use nylon as a food source. This is an adaptation, because nylon was not available until recent times. However, Gravitas materials are careful not to promote a “historical narrative” extrapolated from such scientific data. It is the position of Gravitas that science must be rigid in admitting that there are things we do not yet know. That is the essence of “open inquiry,” a principle of science wholeheartedly endorsed by Gravitas.

C.   Fossilized evidence of extinct species may be covered in the upcoming Real Science-4-Kids Earth/Space series.


Recently a very supportive user of Real Science-4-Kids teaching materials wrote to Gravitas with a suggestion. She knows of some home school parents who have strong objections to the use of the word “design” in a few places in the RS4K biology texts.

The Gravitas philosophy is that its materials teach the facts about gathering and using scientific concepts and data but leave how that information is interpreted to each student and teacher. The objection to the word “design” seems to come from the idea that using the word is the same as promoting the science philosophy of “intelligent design” that pertains to the origin of life.

The specific language used to teach is very important, so it is important to be clear that “design” is not a taboo in science, because the word is commonly used in its generic meaning of “to draw up a plan or execute according to a plan.” In the automotive industry, one can design a car. In mathematics, one can design a set of formulas to solve a problem.

Books totally unrelated to the concept of intelligent design can use the term in a title, such as:  An Introduction to Systems Biology: Design Principles of Biological Circuits (Chapman & Hall/Crc Mathematical and Computational Biology)

Here is an array of science articles, again not pertaining to the discussion of intelligent design:

Protein design in biological networks: from manipulating the input to modifying the output. Van der Sloot AM, Kiel C, Serrano L, Stricher F. Protein Eng Des Sel. 2009 Jul 2.

A systematic design method for robust synthetic biology to satisfy design specifications. Chen BS, Wu CH. BMC Syst Biol. 2009 Jun 30;3(1):66.

Synthetic biology: exploring and exploiting genetic modularity through the design of novel biological networks. Agapakis CM, Silver PA. Mol Biosyst. 2009 Jul;5(7):704-13. Epub 2009 May 14.

Common themes in the design and function of bacterial effectors. Galán JE. Cell Host Microbe. 2009 Jun 18;5(6):571-9

This illustrates that one should be careful about judging a science text’s philosophy by scanning for a particular word or checking to see if it is used in the index.