Many people think the two most important subjects on the SAT Assessment are English and Mathematics. That is NOT a true statement. The most important subjects on the SAT Assessment are the “S” subjects. Science and Social Studies!
There are as many questions regarding Science and Social Studies on the SAT Assessment as there are about English and Mathematics. Granted you must use English and Math to answer the Science and Social Studies questions, but you must also understand the Science and the Social Studies involved in order to answer these questions.
SAT: Breaking Down the Science Test
In the Evidence-based Reading and Writing section of the SAT Assessment, there are five passages on the Reading test and four passages on the Writing and Language test. On the Reading test, two of the five passages examine foundational concepts and developments in Earth Science, Biology, Chemistry, or Physics.
Also on the Reading test, two of the five passages are from Social Studies. One from a U.S. founding document, or a text in the great global conversation they inspired, and the other about economics, psychology, sociology, or some other social science.
On the Writing and Language Test, the four passages will always be on the same topics of Careers, Science, Humanities, and History/Social Studies. In the Mathematics sections, both the calculator test and non-calculator test will have word problems where the content is Science and Social Studies based. You can find sample Science and History/Social Studies sample SAT Assessment questions in the SAT Suite Question Bank.
The SAT and Science
How do these SAT Assessment questions fit into what is being taught in Science and how it is being taught? The focus of this blog entry is to discuss how those SAT Assessment questions fit into Science classes.
Science teachers have the ability to make a significant difference for all students by preparing them for exactly how the SAT Assessment will ask the science questions. They will all be asked in context!
The questions will be asked after the students have read passages and then are expected to use content area literacy to answer the question. Examples of what to expect include:
Charts & Graphs– data will be presented in charts and graphs in the science passages on the SAT Assessment and students must analyze the information and make connections between the text and the data included.
Hypotheses- The students will be asked to examine hypotheses, interpret the data, and consider implications that the text discusses in the passage.
Math Questions– questions, both on the calculator test and non-calculator test, will be contextual word problems where the students must apply the mathematics to come to a numerical conclusion to answer the SAT Assessment mathematical question.
Science and Engineering Standards
What has just been discussed should come as no surprise to any science teacher. All the skills the SAT Assessment expects students to have and be able to adequately use are found in the Indiana Academic Standards for Science. These two extremely important parts are the Process and Literacy Standards.
Just like there are Mathematical Process Standards, there are Science and Engineering Process Standards! The Science and Engineering Process Standards are the first eight standards at every grade level and for every science course at the high school level.
The other extremely important part of the Science Standards are the Literacy Standards for Science and Technical Subjects for grades six through twelve. At the high school level, they are broken into skills for Freshmen and Sophomores and for Juniors and Seniors.
Eight Process Standards
The following are the 8 Science and Engineering Process Standards.
Developing and using models and tools
Constructing and performing investigations
Analyzing and interpreting data
Using mathematics and computational thinking
Engaging in argument from evidence
Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
These eight process standards cannot be learned passively by being told what to do or reading about them in a textbook. They can be explained and discussed with students but they are learned by doing!
This is why my last blog post talked about the importance of projects in science classes. Without projects and hands-on experiments, the Science and Engineering Process Standards are just words without true meaning or value. Students MUST experience the process through projects and hands-on experiments to give these words meaning and value!
I know there is always the issue of time and costs for projects and experiments. I would ask- can we really afford not to take the time and pay the costs for projects and experiments? It is all about our student’s future and their ability to be knowledgeable and productive after grades K – 12.
Indiana Academic Standards for Content Area Literacy for Science/Technical Subjects.
Next, the Indiana Academic Standards for Content Area Literacy for Science/Technical Subjects. The seven Literacy standards for Science are:
Learning outcome for literacy in science/technical subjects – Read and comprehend science and technical texts independently and proficiently and write effectively for a variety of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences
Key ideas and textual support (reading) – Extract and construct meaning from science and technical texts using a variety of comprehension skills
Structural elements and organization (reading) – Build understanding of science and technical texts, using knowledge of structural organization and author’s purpose and message
Synthesis and connection of ideas (reading) – Build understanding of science and technical texts by synthesizing and connecting ideas and evaluating specific claims
Writing genres (writing) – Write for different purposes and to specific audiences or people
The writing process (writing) – Produce coherent and legible documents by planning, drafting, revising, editing, and collaborating with others
The research process (writing) – Build knowledge about the research process and the topic under study by conducting short or more sustained research
These seven literacy standards are all about incorporating reading and writing into the process of learning science. Teachers must use current articles, asking students to read, analyze, make connections, formulate hypotheses, interpret data, make projections, draw conclusions, and communicate the information in a clear and useful manner in both written and verbal formats. That is exactly what the SAT Assessment questions are asking students to do when they are answering the questions.
Putting it Together
If you read the detailed descriptions for both the process and literacy standards for science they are asking the teacher to provide a rich, meaningful experience for the student in science. They are asking the student to experience the science and then be able to communicate exactly what they did and the results of their actions in both verbal and written formats.
Let’s face it, if we can get our students to this level of competency and able to demonstrate these extremely important skills, both verbally and in writing, our students will be set up for success the rest of their lives.
The Role of Science Teachers
Science teachers, you have one of the most important tasks to make sure your students are prepared for taking the SAT Assessment and for work at the post-secondary level and in their chosen careers. You must get your students reading current events in science and writing and answering questions about those events, including making projections and discussing implications for the future.
I will tell you right now when I interact with many adults, so many of them desperately need to learn these skills! So many adults do not understand what reliable sources are, what the scientific terms mean, and the implications of the data and facts of many science articles they read today. We must make this a priority for our students so we can produce competent, independently thinking adults in the future.
Testing Student Knowledge
There are many ways to begin to test our students’ understanding. Below are a few ideas and suggestions on how to accomplish this.
Without trying to be controversial here, students need to understand the differences between natural selection and breeding to change the genetic structure of an organism as compared to a Genetically Modified Organism or a Genetically Engineered Organism. All three methods change the genetic structure of an organism.
Do students know and understand the differences and how they are socially accepted and the implications of each of the three methods? (If you are interested there is a very good article that discusses the difference between these three methods. You can find it here.) These are the types of articles students need to be reading and exploring in Biology. These articles will prepare students for what they will see every time they go into a grocery store to purchase their food for the rest of their lives.
Use Current News Articles
When students read articles about current scientific test abilities they are exposed to and asked to understand important topics that are in the news regularly. Over the years. we have gone from parts per thousand calculations to parts per million, parts per billion and now they can even detect parts per trillion in many chemical tests.
What does this really mean to us? Do students understand the differences in these calculations and saturations? I know most adults do not! For instance, as an adult how long does it take to count to one million counting one number every second 24 hours a day 7 days a week? Then ask them how long it takes to count like that to a billion. Finally, ask them how long it takes for them to count like that to a trillion.
Even with a calculator, most adults will not be able to give you a reasonable answer. (by the way, the correct answers are: A million seconds is just under 12 days. A billion seconds is just over 31 years. A trillion seconds is approximately 31,688 years.) Yet those are calculations that are addressed in many articles students may read and information used in the media on a regular basis.
We must strategically choose articles for students to read and projects and experiments for students to engage in so they understand these very important concepts they will be seeing and experiencing for the rest of their lives!
Another important skill students must have is to read data, make inferences from that data, make projections, and describe in general what is happening in various types of graphs and charts.
Science teachers need to give students data in various forms like the table and graphs you see above and ask them questions about that data. Have the students examine the data carefully and critically to make inferences, projections, and explain what might be happening and why it might be happening.
“Why does the number of visitors to Yellowstone park oscillate throughout the year?”
“Why is it important to have a control group for the Gummy Bear Project?”
“Why is the range of data for the Distance vs. Workout Duration graph greater on the Weekends as compared to weekdays?”
“Which measure of central tendencies best represents the data for the %Fat?”
“How many total visitors might we expect to see in Yellowstone National Park in 2022?”
“What do you think is causing the differences in the data for the different subjects launching their Gummy Bears?”
“How long would the workout need to be so the distance would be 20 km?”
“How many visitors did Yellowstone have in July of 2014?”
There are hundreds more questions that could be asked about these graphs and tables. We must be asking students to understand the data they are given in all the different forms.
Additional questions to ask your students:
Can students use the data readily available to make projections and predictions about the population in the United States and the world? What are the implications of out of control reproduction that happens in the animal world in places like Australia? (Read the article here.)
What does the loss of farmland mean to the human population? (Read the article here.)
What is going to happen to the world population when the current students are ready to retire?
What does that mean for food and water supplies and costs?
Can they use readily available data to make projections and predictions that can be justified and are accurate?
What types of energy will be produced and used in 2050?
These are the types of questions we need to be posing to our students in their science classes. These are the types of questions students must answer after reading articles and passages on the SAT Assessment.
Overall, I cannot stress enough how very important it is for science teachers and their students to use current scientific articles, graphs, and tables in their studies of science. This will not only help prepare the students for the SAT Assessment they will be taking as one of the Indiana Accountability Report card data points but also prepare them for the critical thinking they will be required to do in their daily lives.
I truly hope that all science teachers take this as a challenge to incorporate scientific articles, graphs, and tables into their lessons on a regular basis. They need to be using current articles for the good of everyone involved. They need to be asking students to explain data in graphs and tables so they know students can appropriately function and respond when they encounter this information after grades K – 12.
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