Members of the Public: Now is your only chance to comment on Minnesota’s new Science Standards. My suggestions: Take out the woo, dampen down the special interests, and please, consider NOT removing biology from the High School standrds!!!!!

To comment, go to this web site and read the context, the standards, and use the resources available there. And/or visit one of the public meetings listed on that site.

Overall the standards are probably an improvement on prior standards. A few questions to consider:

Looking at these standards, it seems as though High School Biology has been removed from the standards and moved to the Middle School. This could allow or even prompt the removal of Biology from high schools, and thus the removal of those pesky high school biology teachers, who have lead the fight to keep creationism out of the schools. This may be a concern.

Another major change is the increase in engineering in the standards. I have two objections to this:

1) Engineering is almost raised to the level of a classic science. I don’t think this reflect reality; and

2) I wonder if the increase in attention to engineering and the removal of biology from the high school standards is a way of telling the creationists (allied to engineering) that they are good and the evolutionists (allied to biology, of course) that they are bad.

Am I being too paranoid? Are they being too subtle? Please read the standards and say what you think!

Another thing to look out for: Some of the specific points made in the standards are too specific, or over determined. Clearly, a special interest of some small group or individual is being overstressed here.

Finally, there is a mention that humans interaction with the environment should include learning on Minnesota Native American populations. That is clearly pandering to a special group. I’m not sure if specifying that particular route to understanding the science of human-environment interaction is appropriate in the science standards. Let’s remove that.


  1. #1 CS
    September 22, 2008

    Having more engineering is not a bad thing, in my opinion. Exposing students to what is basically applied math & applied science is very useful. As a science instructor, I find that many students have a real disconnect with learning the fundamentals of science and applying it to the real world.

    Sure, engineers are more susceptible to falling for the intelligent design scam… errr… theory, but I think the benefits of learning some engineering far outweigh that drawback. Plus, I am not sure a high school level engineering course is going to be quite the same. Those students are not very likely to be doing as much “designing” as actual engineers do.

  2. #2 Timinator
    September 22, 2008

    As an engineer, I think more engineering is a good thing, for just the reasons CS mentions: understanding real-world applications can make it easier for kids to engage with science.

    I’m frankly insulted, however, by the notion that engineers are somehow more susceptible to ID. Creationism allied to engineering, WTF? And I think it’s a stretch that “they” think that engineering could be used in this way.

    In any case, to me the documents seem to clearly separate “pure” science from engineering. In the FAQ they make clear that there are four strands (nature and history of science, physical science, earth and space science, and life science). The substrands seem to me to differentiate between science and engineering.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    September 22, 2008

    I also think having more engineering is a good thing. I also think Minnesota students should have more American Indian stuff. But I don’t want Native American belief systems and religion forced into the biology curriculum, and I’m very suspicious of that attempt, and I’m very much opposed to removing biology and replacing it with engineering, which may or may not be what is happening here . But the biology is out and the engineering is in, so as we say in Minnesota, go figure.

  4. #4 chris
    September 22, 2008

    State law requires the commissioner to develop K-12 science standards and grade-level benchmarks up through grade 8 (MS 120B.021; MS 120B.023, subd. 1). In addition, all students are required to complete three credits of science in high school, one of which must be biology (MS 120B.024).

    This is from the FAQ dated 9/11/08 (emphasis mine). At least from this students have to take at least one year of BIO. Later in the FAQ it does say that definitions as to what constitutes a credit in physics and chemistry have been added, similar to the definition that already exists for biology. I haven’t read through all of it so I don’t know what those definitions are.

    As a MN resident this is an issue for me, although my oldest won’t even start kindergarten until fall of 2010. Thanks for the heads-up.

  5. #5 CS
    September 22, 2008

    When I said engineers are more susceptible to intelligent design, I meant relative to scientists. I did not mean to imply that engineers in general are in any way dumb or ignorant. In fact, I suspect that engineers are far less likely to believe in intelligent design than the general public. Really, the fraction of intelligent design believers in engineering is small, and the fraction of believers in pure sciences is small^2. But proponents of intelligent design often put engineers on the same level as scientists when discussing science, which magnifies the difference between those minorities.

    Sure, intelligent design proponents might think teaching engineering would further their cause because doctorates in engineering vs. pure science might accept intelligent design at the 5% vs. 1% level (total guesstimates, don’t hold me to those numbers). But have they considered the fact that 5% is a lot lower than the 50+% acceptance by the general public? Could this actually backfire and reduce acceptance for intelligent design? Most of the public supports it through lack of understanding of science or distrust of scientists. Maybe showing students how science works and is useful (rather than just some abstract concepts) would work against intelligent design.

  6. #6 chris
    September 22, 2008

    I’m reading them through now and I’m not so sure we shouldn’t be concerned. One of the History and Nature of Science strand’s substrands is called “Interactions
    among Science, Engineering, Technology and Society.” At 2nd grade, one of the standards under this substrand reads:

    2. Designed, and natural systems exist in the world. These systems are made up of components that act within a system and interact with other systems.

    Leaving aside the extraneous comma, this sure looks like an attempt to incorporate the idea of design into scientific methods of inquiry. Here are the benchmarks for this standard: Describe a system in terms of its parts.

    Not so bad, really. Breaking things down into their components can help understand the thing itself. The next two could be a problem: Recognize that systems may not continue to function if some of the parts are broken or missing. Recognize that when the parts of a system are put together, they can do things that they couldn?t do by themselves.

    #2 sure looks like the beginnings of an argument from irreducible complexity. And this is 2nd grade. Now I can’t decide if I’m being paranoid, although I do live in the 6th Congressional district, home of noted scientist Michelle Bachmann.

  7. #7 chris
    September 22, 2008

    Here’s a 9th grade one that could cause problems in the wrong hands: Explain how scientific and technological innovations as well as new evidence can challenge portions of or entire accepted theories and models including, but not limited to, cell theory, atomic theory, theory of evolution, plate tectonic theory, gem (sic) theory of disease and big bang theory.

    I don’t see any need to list the theories that could be changed, other than to document that evolution is just a theory.

  8. #8 Thanos
    September 22, 2008

    You are being paranoid, there’s a serious drought in engineering right now and we must have good engineers if we are to realize the clean energy sources we need at the scale we must have. 9 billion people here by 2050, that’s a lot of sewage to treat, meals to cook, and food to farm if we aren’t to create severe environmental degradation. I don’t like them removing the Bio either, one of the very best classes I took when I was in gradeschool was the AP class where we studied life cycles of parasitic worms. All the girls went “eeeeeww!” but it was actually pretty cool.

  9. #9 Serena
    September 22, 2008

    Just for the record, biology has not been eliminated from the proposed science standards. However, the life science strand is now listed as grade 9, whereas the current standards lists it in grades 9-12.

    Grade 9 also includes other strands, such as earth science and physical science. If you read all of the content listed for grade 9, it is evident that no 9th grade student would be able to learn all of it in one year. I don’t understand why a grade level is listed at all. Schools should be able to create their own science sequence. Some schools prefer a Physics first approach, others prefer the more traditional route of physical science, biology, chemistry, then physics.

  10. #10 Stephanie Z
    September 22, 2008

    Serena, that worried me too, but unless I’m reading this wrong, they don’t list anything after grade 9. I think they just changed the descriptor from 9-12 to 9.

  11. #11 Brian Knoblock
    September 23, 2008

    It’s not paranoia, Dr. Laden. You’re just looking for possible security holes that could be taken advantage of. Always look for any possible areas requiring patching.

    I believe the reason why the Life Sciences standards list only grade 9 and Chemistry and Physics list as “CHEM” and “PHYS” is because MN is trying to start letting students choose their own sequences. That’d just be my guess.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    September 23, 2008

    Thanos: I am not being paranoid. They are really, truly, out to get us. No one, any where, questions that.

    Is anyone questioning this? No? Good.

    This is not about whether or not Engineering should be given more attention. That is not a bad thing, but it can not happen at the expense of biology. That would be absurd.

    Brian: Why do you say that MN is thinking of doing this? Is there any other indication of that?

  13. #13 Brian Knoblock
    September 23, 2008

    Dr. Laden, I had no other indication other than removing the 9-12 listing (as Serena mentioned) and replacing it with just grade 9. It was simply a guess.

    I was looking at it from the viewpoint that if I wanted to get the science standards in the final few years to be more of a focus on a particular field (i.e. Chemistry more than Biology) based on student interest, but still providing a strong foundation in the other subjects for those who won’t be majoring in a science at the college level, the draft standards there would be something I’d consider.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    September 23, 2008

    See my latest post (with the cookies) for important details on the standards.