Here's what parents and teachers are saying in response to AmplifyScience, Seattle's proposed science curriculum
We got a wide array of responses to our recent story about Amplify Science - a controversial, partly-digital science curriculum for grades K-8 being considered for adoption in Seattle Public Schools.
We heard from science teachers who said Amplify made science come to life for their students, and teachers who said it's the opposite of how science should be taught.
We heard from parents who said screen time allows for cool visualizations , and parents who said the curriculum lowers the bar.
And others said the debate raises larger questions about equity in school funding, and how curriculum should be developed and selected.
Here's a selection of the feedback we received.
COULDN'T BE HAPPIER WITH AMPLIFY
Elizabeth Stone, teacher, via email:
"I'm in the second year of the Amplify [curriculum] and I couldn't be happier.
Last year was hard as I adjusted to new curriculum that demands a very different way of teaching. This year, while still ironing out the kinks, I've found my groove and seen excellent results in my students.
The laptops are only used when students are gathering evidence from the online simulations, or when they are taking an assessment. Unless it is an assessment day, students work in pairs sharing a laptop. When I need to give an assessment, I borrow the laptop cart from the science teacher next door so that every student has their own.
In a typical week, this translates to 1 to 3 days of about 20 minutes of computer use per day. While my students are using the computers I circulate the room, ask questions, listen to student discourse, and check for understanding — just like I would when students are engaged in any other form of learning.
No one will argue that sitting kids in front of a computer while the teacher watches from their screen is bad teaching. But so is giving students an outdated textbook and telling them to read a chapter and answer the questions.
Both are examples of ineffective teaching, and neither should ever happen."
Summer Stinson, parent, via Facebook:
"I started following the science adoption process when my science-loving kid came home and said science is now online with boring 'sims' rather than any hands-on learning and experiments.
He can describe in great detail the science he learned from the [last curriculum's] science kits. For example he learned about the cycle of water from building and examining a terrarium. He learned about discovering what animals ate and their hunting times and preferences by dissecting an owl pellet.
He cannot describe any Amplify simulation to the same degree of detail.
It is absolutely inequitable and flat-out unacceptable if some kids and schools got this hands-on experience and others didn’t. Then, the problem to be solved is to provide this kind of learning experience to every kid. And it may mean a lot more resources are directed at some schools and classes to accomplish that needed goal.
I worry that accepting an online curriculum and allowing some teachers and schools to supplement furthers inequity.
The state should be providing enough funding for this science to happen and then Seattle Public Schools should be providing it to each and every student. All schools need more resources but some need a lot more."
SUPREMELY UNDERFUNDED SCHOOLS
Wayne Au, parent and professor of education, via Facebook & email:
"It might be true that, in the context of supremely underfunded schools, Amplify is a real improvement. I think that reality is what some of the Amplify resisters aren’t admitting, or even if they do admit that, they aren’t willing to both resist Amplify AND work for real, equitable school funding in Seattle so that kids in poor schools have access to incredible facilities and curriculum.
I think it would be important to also acknowledge that, given Amplify's history here in Seattle and in other states, resisters are right to worry about student privacy, as well as too much focus on test preparation."
OVERWHELMINGLY POSITIVE EXPERIENCE
Julia Ward, teacher, via email:
"As a middle school science teacher, I have had an overwhelmingly positive experience using Amplify, both in my own classroom, where it helps me support students in collaborative learning, hands-on investigations, and complex data analysis, and in district workshops, where access to a common, current curriculum lets us collaborate and align with our colleagues at other Seattle schools.
The teacher’s role—what according the teacher interview called the “human factor”—varies from one activity to the next.
Sometimes a teacher might oversee an activity for the whole class, or teach a principle or strategy using direct instruction. Or, in the case of self-directed and self-paced activities, she’s freed up to circulate and monitor learning, answer questions, offer real-time feedback, and come up with adjustments or additions beyond the base curriculum.
This makes such a difference, both in situations when students struggle with a concept and when they get it right away and need an extension to stay engaged.
Teaching effectively is really hard work, and this curriculum has helped me and many of my colleagues to be better more consistently."
AMPLIFY KILLS INQUIRY
Sidney Deering, educator, via Facebook:
"I've used it as a teacher. Amplify is boring AF and kills inquiry in kids. Requires so much supplementation that why would anyone use it? It has serious equity issues because it is computer-based. Almost no hands-on activities for kids, a few teacher demos. Tons of low-level reading, plenty of writing to explain your understanding, which is good. Snazzy computer simulations, but not enough to keep kids from being bored to tears and hating science, if Amplify is what is being served up as science.
Specific example of dryness and lack of equity: In a lesson about chemical change there is a black and white photo of a glass with clear colorless liquid, and a glass which is cloudy and foaming over.
Really? What would it have cost to actually include vinegar and baking soda and let kids experience that?
Hey, they have laptops, so how 'bout even a video of the fizzing? But no. Just that black and white photo. Not even the suggestion of a teacher demo.
My kids got to do the vinegar and baking soda because I stopped at Safeway on the way to school and could turn in my receipt to my well-resourced school. THAT is an equity issue."
Kirsten Hoover Schubring, parent in Bellevue Public Schools, via Facebook:
"Bellevue uses it but supplements it with [non-Amplify] labs and activities. My son is an 8th grader and thinks it’s fine for the data modeling that can’t be done in any other way. My daughter is a 6th grader and finds it boring. Both kids do say that it is the core and that their teachers find ways to make the subjects interesting."
WHERE IS THE LONG-TERM RESEARCH?
Emily Cherkin, parent and educator, via email:
"I am a former Seattle Public Schools student and an incoming Seattle Public Schools parent. I am strongly opposed to the adoption of the AmplifyScience curriculum for Seattle Public School students for two specific reasons:
First, real learning occurs during messy, three-dimensional, hands-on experiences in the context of real-life relationships with teachers. Real learning is difficult and carves new neural pathways in growing children. Real learning does NOT come from remotely-monitored, bite-sized, screen-based lessons. The use of such curricula does our children a tremendous disservice and robs them of critical skill-building and relationship-honing opportunities.
Second, where is the long-term, research-based evidence that technology-based curricula like Amplify Science are more effective than well-trained, well-supported teachers?
[Seattle Public Schools Science Program Manager MaryMargaret] Welch states: 'We want [students] to be engaged in conversations around evidence, and using evidence to draw their conclusions.'
We have decades of research about the value of human teachers to teach critical skill-building and relationships, the foundation on which all other learning happens. If scant evidence exists to justify a nine year, nearly $9 million educational tech-based curricula, where is the justification to implement?
I am hard-pressed to see how AmplifyScience will benefit all students when minimal research exists to suggest that it can."
SCREEN TIME IS MINIMAL
Megan Batty, teacher, via email:
"I read an account that Amplify relies heavily on-screen time with little else happening in the classroom, and teachers sitting behind their desks watching their own screens. To me that seems to be an instructional choice rather than a curriculum based one.
On average I use the laptops for less than 25 minutes in a period, two to three times per week. During this time, I am circulating around the room having discussions with kids about the evidence they are collecting and what they are thinking. The curriculum has downloadable handouts that I modify and make my own to fit my teaching style, so this is an alternative to using the screens.
This curriculum is still not perfect. However, again groups of us have been meeting during the waiver to try and adapt some things and bolster the curriculum to make it more specific to and rigorous for our diverse Seattle students.
We were able to add in multiple hands on activities that fit into the storyline and were value added instead of just 'fun' activities.
We also developed social focus questions which connected to the storyline, but brought it more locally or through a social justice lens that make it more relevant to students that may otherwise be disengaged for learning science just to learn science.
As I am at [a Highly Capable Cohort/Spectrum] school I have worked to create additional extension opportunities so that I can challenge all students.
There is still work to be done, but I believe in the teachers I have the privilege of working with and we want the best for kids. We are the professionals that can do this work."
TWO SCHOOL DISTRICTS
Shawna Murphy, parent, via Facebook:
"The big picture discussion is Seattle Public Schools has two school districts: one publicly funded and one privately subsidized through PTA fundraising. It is not surprising that the very different communities may want different curriculums for their students.
I’d advocate for an overhaul of the entire system so that our schools were equitably funded, but I also recognize that school communities may desire some autonomy in curriculum use.
Why couldn’t there be a range of options available in the same district? One size doesn’t fit all."