With A View To The Future, Project 2061 Celebrates Its 20th Anniversary
Dr. Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, and Dr. F. James Rutherford, founder of Project 2061
AAAS’s Project 2061 celebrated its 20th anniversary 17-19 October with a range of activities, including a briefing on Capitol Hill, a professional development workshop for science teachers, a program featuring speakers from the science and science education communities, and a reception at AAAS.
Project staff and supporters took this momentous occasion as an opportunity to reflect on the progress of science education in the past 20 years by discussing what "science literacy for all," Project 2061’s motto, means today and considering the most promising directions for future work. Educators from around the country, past and present Project 2061 staff, science education reform leaders, and other supporters of the project came together for the three-day celebration.
At the 17 October briefing on Capitol Hill, members of Congressincluding Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.)and their staffs were joined by Project 2061 staff and supporters in discussing the urgency of the goals the project has set out to accomplish.
Ehlers, who launched the bipartisan STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education Caucus with Udall in spring 2004, said at the briefing that whereas 10 years ago he was a “lone voice in the wilderness” in his interest in science education, today a wider concern and interest in science education is apparent. The striking bi-partisan growth of the caucusit now has 87 membersis persuasive evidence.
“We are falling behind the rest of the world in teaching our students math and science concepts,” Ehlers warned. “It’s urgent that AAAS and Project 2061 continue to do what you are doing.”
Rep. Boehlert, chairman of the U.S. House Science Committee, agreed. Project 2061’s work “is of critical importance to the nation’s long-term security,” Boehlert said. “It’s the future of our children and grandchildren that we’re talking about.”
Since its inception in 1985, the project has advocated that sciencecrucial for an informed citizenship and for keeping pace in a global marketis for all students, not just for those going on to technical or research careers.
The arrival of Halley’s Comet in 1985 served as an inspiration to the founders; the mission is to reform K-12 education so that broad science, mathematics and technology literacy is a reality when the comet reappears in 2061. Project 2061 is very well supported in its efforts by several additional AAAS initiatives that help advance science education through programs that focus on school curricula, resources for educators, public education, scientific career advancement and training of a diverse workforce.
In its 1989 landmark publication, Science for All Americans, Project 2061 set out recommendations for what all students should know and be able to do in science, mathematics and technology by the time they graduate from high school. A 1993 follow-up publication, Benchmarks for Science Literacy, translated those recommendations into learning goals, or benchmarks, for grades K-12. Many of today's state and national standards documents have based their content on Benchmarks. Project 2061’s influence extends beyond the United States, with translations of Science for All Americans and Benchmarks providing guidance for reform efforts in other countries, such as Mexico and China.
“No organization had previously addressed the issue of what was needed in K-12 schooling by putting aside the traditional curriculum and starting by debating and deciding what every adult citizen needed to know and be able to do,” explained Dr. Gilbert S. Omenn, the president of AAAS. Omenn, a member of Project 2061’s original advisory group, was one of four speakers at the 18 October program.
The others were Dr. Alan I. Leshner, AAAS CEO; Dr. Iris Weiss, president of Horizon Research Inc., a firm that specializes in science and math education research and evaluation; and Linda Froschauer, president-elect of the National Science Teachers Association. Dr. Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, and Dr. F. James Rutherford, founder of Project 2061 also addressed the audience.
Although all the speakers praised the significant contributions of Project 2061 to science education in this country, the general sentiment was that the overall performance of U.S. schools remains far from satisfactory.
Among challenges facing science education today, according to Weiss of Horizon Research, are those related to the quality of teacher education programs designed to prepare new teachers and provide ongoing professional development. Today’s teachers need more extensive knowledge of the science content as well as the ability to work with diverse learners. How to provide these kinds of programs cost-effectively to many more teachers is a key issue.
But the root problem, Weiss believes, is that the amount of learning material often packed into science curricula is overwhelming and unrealistic. “We say less is more,” she said, “but we don’t really believe it.”
Omenn, a professor in the University of Michigan Medical School and its School of Public Health, mentioned in his presentation a Project 2061 review of a very popular science textbook which had 120 bold-font biology terms intended for students to memorize just in the chapter on the cell. Project 2061 got them down to 12 essential terms. In this case, and in many others, the Project has helped educators make better decisions about what to include in the science curriculum and to use teaching strategies that move students away from rote memorization toward a deeper knowledge of the most important ideas and skills.
Besides providing a plethora of print and online resources for teachers, Project 2061 holds regular professional development workshops for teachers around the country. The most recent one was held at AAAS as part of the anniversary events.
Project 2061 workshops engage participants in using project toolssuch as the Atlas of Science Literacy and other project publicationsto understand the meaning of a standard, what knowledge it contributes to and what it builds on. Participants find out about strategies for selecting and using textbooks and monitoring students’ progress, all key steps toward improving science learning.
Participation in these workshops isn’t limited to classroom teachers; it includes district personnel, university faculty, curriculum developers, museum and science center educators and members of various science organizations, a trend that will perhaps contribute to more widespread systemic reform of science and mathematics education.
The anniversary event concluded with the presentation to Rutherford of a large, framed poster displaying the covers of Project 2061 books that were published during his tenure as director. He was honored for creating Project 2061 in 1985, guiding it through significant achievement, and continuing to be an eloquent advocate for science literacy around the world.
After praising AAAS and Project 2061 for the incredible work that they’ve done, Rutherford warned that science education still needs a lot of work.
“Project 2061 can be proud of the unrivaled contributions it made to the advancement of science education during its first 20 years,and nowin the next 20 it must continue to press forward with the same strategy, energy, and inventiveness in its crucial effort to make nationwide science literacy a reality in America,” said Rutherford. He is currently distinguished visiting professor at Mills College in Oakland, Ca. He’s also engaged in establishing an interdisciplinary center for the advancement of science literacy; principal investigator of Resources for Environmental Literacy, a NSF-funded project; and consultant on several projects, including "In the Wake of the Western Flyer," a science film based on John Steinbeck's research in the Sea of Cortez.
Roseman agreed that much work remains to be done. “With a strong foundation to build on,” she said, “a clear focus on the most important science ideas and skills, and a set of practical tools that can help educators select appropriate materials and monitor their students’ progress, Project 2061 is well-positioned to help make its guiding vision of science literacy for all a reality.”
2 November 2005