Chinese Educators Visit AAAS’s Project 2061 to Discuss Science Literacy Standards

A delegation of Chinese educators and university officials visited AAAS to learn about the long-term efforts of Project 2061 to improve science literacy in the United States.

Liu Enshan, director of the Science Education Research Center at Beijing Normal University, told Project 2061 Director Jo Ellen Roseman that China is at a critical point in its effort to revise its science standards for elementary school, middle school, and high school students.

Liu Yuexia (fourth from left), section chief in China’s Ministry of Education, presents a gift to Project 2061 Director Jo Ellen Roseman (third from right) at AAAS. Others in the delegation of Chinese education and university officials were (left to right):
Xiao Lei, program officer, China Education Association for International Exchange; Wang Lei, superintendent, Institute of Chemistry Education, Beijing Normal University; Duan Yushan, deputy dean, School of Resources and Environmental Science, East China Normal University (Shanghai); Xu Dianfang, director, Teaching and Research Section, Shanghai Municipal Education Commission; Liu Enshan, professor, College of Life Sciences, Beijing Normal University; and You Baohua, section chief, National Center for School Curriculum and Textbook Development, Chinese Ministry of Education.

He said the delegation was familiar with two landmark publications from Project 2061: “Science for All Americans,” released in 1989, which set out recommendations on what all students should know in science, mathematics, and technology by the time they graduate from high school, and “Benchmarks for Science Literacy,” a 1993 volume which translated those recommendations into learning goals, or benchmarks.

“While we are writing our science standards, we need to know what is happening in other parts of the world, especially the States,” Liu said. He added that “Benchmarks” and “National Science Education Standards,” published in 1996 by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, “will give us much help.”

During the meeting on 28 April, Roseman said improving science education is a worldwide concern that would benefit from international cooperation. “We are available to work with people around the world who are serious about this,” she said.

Many state and national science standards documents have drawn content from the “Benchmarks.” Roseman noted that China has translated “Science for All Americans,” “Benchmarks,” and the first volume of Project 2061’s “Atlas of Scientific Literacy” into Chinese. AAAS also recently signed a memorandum of understanding with China, giving permission to translate much of the content of Project 2061’s website.

The delegation was invited by the U.S. Department of Education, and the visit was administered by the National Committee on United States-China Relations, a private, non-partisan group that promotes better Sino-American relations.

The eight-person Chinese delegation was in the United States from 17-30 April. While in Washington, they visited the Department of Education, as well as the National Science Foundation, the National Academy of Sciences, and the National Institutes of Health. The trip also included stops in San Francisco and Brookings, South Dakota, where the Chinese educators toured an array of schools, both public and private.

Roseman told the delegation in some detail about Project 2061’s current research program and answered questions about efforts in the United States to development a framework for national education standards in science and mathematics.

She stressed the importance of painstaking work to learn what curriculum and teaching contribute most to student progress in the science classroom and beyond. To support such research, Project 2061 is developing assessment items that are precisely aligned with content standards. At Project 2061, she said, the goal is “to step back and see what conceptual and practical tools the field needs” and to develop resources to help them in their work.

Roseman described research, published recently in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, which used the conceptual maps in the “Atlas of Science Literacy” to analyze how well four widely used high school biology textbooks provided students and teachers with a coherent account of the important topic of matter and energy transformations in living systems. Roseman and her co-authors argue that “if science educators, policy-makers, and the public are serious about having students actually understand a set of important science ideas (rather than simply memorizing isolated facts that will soon be forgotten), then it is essential that textbook coherence be taken seriously.”

Roseman also told the Chinese educators about Project 2061’s research to better understand what factors contribute most to improving student achievement in mathematics. Two critical factors have emerged from their eight-year study: first, the use of highly rated curriculum materials, and second, the presence of teachers who ask guiding questions to help students interpret material and reach a deeper understanding, rather than simply encouraging them to explain their ideas.

“Though both strategies are important, guiding expects more,” Roseman said. To effectively guide students, teachers have to have a coherent understanding of the learning goals targeted and a clear sense of likely student difficulties.

Careful attention to detail is essential, she said, whether in assessing how well a particular textbook measures up to stated learning goals or how well a teacher guides a class toward an integrated understanding of key concepts in science or math. “We’ve learned over and over again that to improve learning, all aspects of the educational system need to focus attention on important learning goals,” Roseman said.

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