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Content v. Skills: The Great Curriculum Debate

Science Under the Microscope

ContentAs teachers, we are always in a race to cover required content, but is winning that race really teaching our students the skills they need?

Many educators might face the dilemma of skills vs. content when it comes to classroom curriculum. With strict state standards in place and limited class time, we are forced to choose between spending more time teaching a wide variety of content, or focusing on hands-on activities that teach skill.

After reading Karl Fisch's column debating this concept in the Huffington Post. it got me thinking about where I stand in the content vs. skills debate.

Content vs. Skills in State Standards

The recent movement toward paring down state science standards in favor of more depth and greater comprehension has rung true with me.

I have spent much of the past two years making the same changes to what I do in my own classroom. I reviewed my state science standards. I realized that some of what I teach was not really included in these standards. I turned my focus on addressing the explicitly itemized standards. This allowed me time to review, reinforce, and extend upon them.

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I guess you can call it "back to basics" or "essential standards", but nonetheless it is a fundamental shift toward focusing on fewer topics and greater discovery of each.

Cutting Content - The Sophie's Choice of Science

In Science, this often means choosing between teaching conceptual ideas, such as the Coriolis Effect or Newton's Laws, compared to process skills, such as experimental design or sterile technique. To the accomplished Science teacher, this resembles Sophie's Choice. Students need both practical know-how and content background understanding if they are to be productive citizens--let alone future scientists. We can't sacrifice either.

 Fisch's column makes this point clear and succinct. The new standards should provide sufficient time for teaching process skills and then using hands-on activities to reinforce the slimmed-down content area objectives. And, in the end, the instructional synergy between content and skills will make our students more capable in the sciences.

Have you had to make difficult content cuts? Where do you fall in the content v. skills debate? Share in the comments section!