Whatever Happened to…? A look at educational programs from the recent
past
Sam Bowen
An interesting historical exercise would be to look up the September
1991 Physics Today and read some of the articles on the state of science,
and especially physics, education in the country at the beginning of
the 90's. This issue reflects a time in which the federal government
was actively involved in supporting educational programs to improve
science and mathematics education. In particular, Clifford Swartz'
historical article is revealing. This column will examine two very
effective programs invented by physicists and discuss some of the lessons
which have been learned in these two, somewhat related programs. In
the following Howard Goldberg's TIMS (Not TIMSS) Teaching Integrated
Math and Science curriculum and Leon Lederman's Teacher's
Academy for Math and Science (TAMS) will be examined.
TIMS: A Physicist's Solution for teaching math and science in elementary
schools
In the mid80's Howard Goldberg at the University of Illinois at
Chicago started to design a science and mathematics program which was
particularly effective for urban students. This program was called
TIMS (for Teaching Integrated Math and Science) and was based on the
twin foundations that "Science is Experimental" and "The
Language of Science is Mathematics". A set of over 57 laboratory
exercises was invented (for grades 1 through 8) which gave elementary
students a structured experience studying very accessible problems.
The goal of each TIMS experiment is to find the relationship between
two primary variables. There were four types of experiments: classification,
frequency distribution, weak correlation, and strong correlation. As
the children progressed through the grades the experiments shifted
from classification and simple frequency distributions to more complicated
frequency distributions and on to weak and strong correlation between
the variables. Each laboratory study was structured in the same way,
but was designed to fit each age group of students.
The student participation in the experiments was built around four
steps:
 Drawing and labeling a picture of the experiment and study.
 Seting up a data table for the two primary variables.
 Graphing the data
 Asking and answering questions based on the experiment and possibly
designing another.
The complete set of experiments were organized under the following
categories: Classification, Frequency Distribution, Length, Area, Volume,
Mass, Velocity and Acceleration, Inertia & Balanced Forces & Newton's
Laws, and Work & Energy & Simple Machines. All of the experiments
had captivating titles and were anticipated by the students. A typical
experiment took about five, forty minute periods, typically carried
out over one week. Teachers were to do at least one experiment per
month each academic year.
In contrast to many other curricular efforts these laboratory exercises
could stand alone without an additional textbook and the students learned
scientific and mathematical thinking by carrying out the process listed
above.
How successful was this program?
The success of the program depended critically on the teacher becoming
well trained in the use of the materials and the mathematical and scientific
background of the experiments. The program was tested in 13 schools
over a four year period. Initially, a long and careful inservice training
program in all of the experiments was given to the lead teachers from
each school. These lead teachers were then to train their colleagues
in their schools. When the data were collected during each year of
the project the results were very positive. Doing the experiments increased
the ability of the students to understand and solve mathematics problems.
The improvement from year to year scaled linearly with the number of
experiments done in the preceding year. The program seemed to have
been effective for both low and high reading skill children. Compared
to control groups the students who did larger numbers of experiments
showed significant gains. The program demonstrated itself to be highly
effective. Why is it not more widely adopted today?
What were the major problems encountered by the program?
The major problem encountered by the program was the amazingly large
turnover of teaching and administrative staff in the schools and the
even greater attrition of students in these urban area schools. The
first problem was that the lead teachers who had received significant
training in the math and science of these laboratories were soon regarded
as mathematics and science experts and received better job offers at
other schools. After four years of the program only half of the initial
lead teachers remained. Similarly, only three of the original principals
who had promised to support the program remained at the end of the
four years. Among the other teachers in each building, the turnover
of teachers who had been trained by the lead teachers also was large.
More striking was the turnover of students in these mostly urban
schools. Over 25% of the students left the classroom each year. Out
of the original 2835 students who took the first examination, only
837 completed all four years of the assessment examinations. Attempts
to find these missing students in other schools were not productive
because of the state of student records.
A second, more subtle problem became apparent as the program continued.
School administrators and other teachers classified TIMS as a mathematics
program and not a science program, since there were no lists of new
terms and topics covered. Their major complaint was that there was
no identifiable science content in the experiments. In other words,
they could not list the topics covered in what they regarded as science.
The pressure from this quarter to adopt more traditional science curricula
was great.
This narrow classification of TIMS as a mathematics program was also
adopted by staff at the federal funding agencies. They would not fund
the continuation of the program as an integrated math and science program,
but would support it only as a mathematics curriculum. Because of this
decision the program evolved into a mathematics program with much of
the same approach. The excellent, resulting curriculum is called Math
TrailBlazers and is available from Kendall Hunt, (see below).
TIMS was used as a major part of the science training of teachers
in schools by Leon Lederman's Teachers Academy of Math and Science.
That application led to those schools showing significant buildingwide
average score increases in state of Illinois standardized tests. It
seems that these experiments are an effective way of providing teachers
and students with practice using the tools of science.
The complete set of the TIMS experiments and supporting documents
are available on a CD from Kendall Hunt Publishers, which can be ordered
at 18005426657 or examined on the publisher's website (http://www.kendallhunt.com).
The TIMS story has a number of lessons for physicists who would work
in the schools and make a lasting change. Even with a curricular package
of high quality and demonstrable effectiveness, the lack of knowledge
of the nature of science by teachers and administrators can reduce
the effectiveness of the program. Turnover and transience among staff
and students requires a long term plan and recurring training of new
staff for any effective educational program.
