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Transformation of Science Standards by NAS

November 28, 2011
Dna_rendering

Eschool News published a report recently about an effort led by the National Academy of Sciences to improve science instruction in elementary and secondary schools.  The article, States Transforming Science Class, outlines the work that will involve 20 states collaborating to rewrite their science standards with a “greater emphasis on analytical and conceptual thinking.” (p. 1)

The new science standards will:

  • encourage students to examine concepts that cross the boundaries of physics, biology, and chemistry;
  • infuse more engineering into the curricular standards;
  • ask students to apply their understanding of the concepts rather than merely memorizing  information;
  • asked to write more frequently;
  • asked to learn to think more analytically;
  • require teachers to cover less material in their courses but require students to think more deeply about what they learn.

Georgia is one of the 20 states involved in the effort that is being led by Achieve, a nonprofit organization.  The effort is called the Next Generation Science Standards.  I think this effort will go a long way towards restoring some credibility to the study of science in our schools, especially public schools that have cut back on time allocated to teaching science with the advent of No Child Left Behind.  In NCLB, most schools spend considerable time on languate arts and math, at the expense of art, science, social studies and foreign languages, because the scores students receive on high-stakes tests that determine Annual Yearly Progress do include scores on science and social studies.  As the article points out,

Science is tested, but the results don’t count toward rating of schools.

So some schools just don’t put the time and energy into teaching science well.  We teach what we value or we value what we teach.

The National Research Council offered a new framework for teaching science, both content and skills.  Their framework is designed to promote the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and encourage teachers to teach the material in more depth and abandon the practice of teaching science a “mile wide and an inch deep.”

Here are the three areas that the framework is organized around:

  • Scientific and Engineering Practices
  • Crosscutting Concepts That Have Common Application Across Fields
  • Important Topics in Physical, Life, and Earth and Space Sciences, as well as the application of science

If the goal is to help students appreciate the value of science in their lives and better prepare them for the scientific world in which they live, these basic principles seem to be designed thougthfully.  The other task we will need to do is to coordinate:

It will not make sense to have three different organizations promoting three different sets of standards. I hope the thought leaders will use educators to sort through the three efforts and identify the similarities and differences.  It appears that NSTA is promoting the work of the Next Generation of Science Standards (click here for more details).

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