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Project 2061 Sponsors Conference on Improving Science Textbooks
Project 2061 hosted a four-day conference February 27-March 2, as part of its continuing effort to improve instructional materials in middle- and high-school education. The invitation-only conference, titled "Developing Textbooks That Promote Science Literacy," was held at the headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). More than 70 participants, including textbook authors, curriculum developers, educators, editors, and publishers, examined Project 2061's analysis procedure and criteria for evaluating science textbooks.
While the project's textbook evaluations have received considerable public attention, much of it has focused on the deficiencies of widely used instructional materials. The next step toward improved textbooks is greater understanding of what constitutes quality content and how information should be organized, according to Project 2061. The February conference and similar ones planned for the future will explore Project 2061's evaluations, as well as textbook standards that promote science literacy.
"If I had a fantasy for what might come out of this conference, it would be that the consumers—the people who buy the textbooks—would come out vocally and say 'we want materials that do well on an analysis like Project 2061's,'" said Dr. George Nelson, director of Project 2061.
In 1985, AAAS created Project 2061 as a long-term initiative to reform K-12 science and mathematics education, in part because of the "lack of coherence and focus" found in middle- and high-school science and mathematics textbooks. Project 2061 subsequently has found that the curriculum materials do not utilize strategies and activities that can assist students in learning important concepts and skills. These conclusions derive from extensive evaluations of how texts help students achieve the learning goals set out in nationally recognized standards, including Benchmarks for Science Literacy (1993) , published by AAAS.
In seminars and lectures, Project 2061 presented its criteria and evaluations to conference participants. Among the conference speakers were Nelson, Jo Ellen Roseman, associate director of Project 2061, Rodger Bybee, director of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), Ellen Standafer, vice president of Holt, Rinehart & Winston, and a number of educators, including Andrea Bowden, science specialist and biology teacher for Baltimore City Public Schools. Janice Earle, senior program director of the National Science Foundation, and Helen Doyle, program officer and acting director of science of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation welcomed participants on behalf of their foundations, which have provided funding for the conferences.
Topics covered in the seminars and forums included the improvement of curriculum materials for teachers and students, the use of research to identify common student misconceptions, the transformation of abstract scientific ideas into comprehensible concepts for students, and inquiry-based learning that promotes student thinking about everyday events. Conference participants received a CD-ROM with sample evaluation reports as well as explanations of the criteria and indicators that were used by Project 2061 in its textbook evaluations.
Through sessions such as this one, "It is becoming clear that the publishers are learning what the strengths and weaknesses of our current curriculum materials are and what can we do about it," remarked Roseman.
"We made a small step forward, we got conversation going, and there seemed to be plenty of interest in having it continue," stated Nelson. Ideas and work resulting from this conference will serve as a foundation for a second conference this fall, Nelson noted.