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Common Core: California public schools shift science teaching away from memorization

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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California is at a critical stage in carrying out a wholesale change of how it teaches science and other core topics. It's a process that takes time when you're working with nearly six million students.

“You can’t just jump from something that you know and have been doing since 1998 into something you know nothing about,” said Karen Shores, manager of the STEM office of the California Department of Education. “If you want to serve the students in California well, it has to be planned, there has to be information provided to teachers.”

For teaching science, the shift toward the Common Core learning standards, scheduled to be in place in the 2015 – 2016 academic year,  involves relying less on students’ ability to memorize lessons and more on rewiring their brains to think like engineers.

“In engineering you look at what are the options, what are the strategies that might successfully address this problem - how do we determine which one is the best one to use - let’s try out the best one we’ve determined to use and let’s evaluate its effectiveness,” says Shore.

California has a draft implementation plan for the new science standards. The CDE is giving the public until August 25th to give input on the plan.

School districts, Shores said, are increasingly asking the department what they can do to get ready to implement the science standards. Get started “implementing the science and engineering practices in your classroom,” she said, adding that it wouldn’t hurt to attend next month’s STEM symposium in San Diego. At that event, state officials will be talking a lot about the new science standards.