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State Science Supervisors Say Well-Designed Curricula Drive Science Literacy
Stephen Pruitt and Jan McLaughlin
With state and local school officials placing increased emphasis on helping their students improve their performance in science, 11 top state education officials met at a AAAS Project 2061 workshop in an effort to develop new ways to promote broad scientific-literacy.
During a three-day workshop at AAAS headquarters in Washington, D.C., the participants—all members of the Council of State Science Supervisors (CSSS), an organization of leaders who direct statewide efforts to improve science education—heard from colleagues about the challenges they face on the front lines.
The workshop participants also learned about a battery of Project 2061 resources—some new, and some well-established—to help educators and policy makers design state science standards, evaluate instructional materials and strategies, and develop meaningful assessments of students' progress. It was a key consensus in the workshop: With science and technology exerting greater influence in the workplace, the economy, the wider culture, first-rate science teaching and learning are essential.
"Well-designed curriculum frameworks and standards drive science literacy not only by identifying the essential topics that all students should know, but also by organizing them in a sequence that promotes comprehension," said Jacob Foster, director of science and technology/engineering for the Massachusetts Department of Education.
At the workshop held 25-27 June, Project 2061 Director Jo Ellen Roseman said that AAAS was eager to increase engagement with state education officials to gather feedback about how Project 2061 can modify their resources or procedures to increase their utility.
"Paying close attention to the challenges faced by classroom science teachers and by leaders in district and state agencies is essential for Project 2061," said Roseman. "Since it's the teachers and administrators who are using our resources, their feedback is incredibly valuable."
With federal initiatives like the No Child Left Behind Act signed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and the Rising Above the Gathering Storm report released by The National Academies in 2007, promoting innovation and science literacy in the United States has become a national issue of increasing importance to elected officials, business leaders, educators and others in the United States.
Project 2061 has long been a leader in the field. In 1989, Project 2061 published a pioneering initiative entitled Science for All Americans (SFAA), which consolidated recommendations from a series of expert panels assembled to identify what science, mathematic, and engineering concepts are essential for a citizen to be scientifically literate.
Four years after the publication of Science for All Americans, Project 2061 released Benchmarks for Science Literacy, which identified a set of learning goals in the natural and social sciences, mathematics, and technology that all students should achieve at the K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 grade levels. Drawing on the available research about how and when students are best able to learn particular science concepts, Benchmarks has helped to shape both national and state science standards.
More recently, Project 2061 released Atlas of Science Literacy Volume 1 (in 2001) and Volume 2 (in 2007), which placed the concepts in a series of strand maps, allowing educators to see how ideas in one topic relate to those in another topic and how ideas connect across grade levels. For example, the Volume 2 map on weather and climate shows how teaching kindergarteners that water left in an open containers disappears, but water left in a closed container does not, contributes to their eventual understanding in high school of the complex factors that drive climate change.
Last month, Project 2061 announced a new project that placed five related Atlas strand maps online, allowing users to quickly navigate the maps and to explore the different kinds of connections among them.
Stephen Pruitt, director of the Division of Academic Standards at the Georgia Department of Education, praised Project 2061 for its resources, adding that Benchmarks is the base document for designing and modifying Georgia's science curriculum framework.
Pruitt, the incoming president of CSSS, said that because his state has a mandate aligning its science curriculum to national standards and Benchmarks, he urged Project 2061 to be sure to alert state educators as it makes changes to its resources.
Jan McLaughlin, the current CSSS president, said that her state allows local districts to design their own science curricula, frequently creating conflicts over what should be taught. When these disagreements occur, McLaughlin said that she uses Atlas Volume 1 and 2 to resolve the disputes.
Both Pruitt and McLaughlin encouraged Project 2061 to keep state educators aware of changes and to consider partnering with CSSS members and taking advantage of their on-the-ground knowledge to inform resource development. Pruitt added that state science education officials would welcome an ongoing engagement with Project 2061.
Roseman agreed with the participants that communication with state-level educators is imperative to Project 2061's mission.
While this meeting was the first to bring CSSS members to AAAS, Roseman pointed out that Project 2061 communicates regularly with science educators through its professional development workshops and by engaging a wide range of educators, curriculum developers, and researchers in its work.
"Staying in touch with the field helps us identify the most urgent needs and the ways in which we can respond most effectively," Roseman said. "This meeting and efforts like it are absolutely vital."
11 August 2008