Shanghai Educator Delegation Visits AAAS Project 2061, Details Ambitious Investment in Science Literacy

Chen Hong

AAAS's Project 2061 recently hosted a delegation of science educators from Shanghai to share the work they are doing in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment and to learn how education officials in the world's second largest city develop and evaluate science curricula.

During a two-day workshop 7-8 May at AAAS headquarters in Washington D.C., Project 2061 staff made presentations dealing with content standards, curricular coherence, instructional strategies, and assessment. They also heard from 15 elementary, middle and high school teachers and education administrators from Shanghai who outlined their city's ambitious efforts to improve science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.

In 2003, Shanghai unveiled a series of bold initiatives reflecting a reinvigorated national commitment to science education as a driver of innovation. Education leaders there developed new science standards and benchmarks and new educational materials that integrated multimedia components. They incorporated informal education programs into teaching plans for after-school activities and summer programs and at museums. And they encouraged scientific organizations and societies to co-develop science curricula. Much of their work, which begins with standards development, is motivated by the tools and resources of Project 2061, many of which have been translated into Chinese.

According to Chen Hong, the Shanghai Association for Science and Technology official who led the delegation, many of the new initiatives look outside China's borders as a way to improve domestic teacher training and education resources. The Shanghai government has subsidized travel for science teachers to attend international education workshops as well as the translation of educational resources developed in other countries.

Chen said that among the largest challenges to improving science education is distributing new curricula and materials through the district or country.

"China is a big country with a lot of people and it takes a long time to push initiatives to everyone," said Chen.

Chen added that exchanges with other countries through teacher training and events like the AAAS-hosted workshop allow educators to realize that they are part of a worldwide effort to create a science-literate citizenry.

The visit was organized as part of a memorandum of cooperation between the Shanghai Association for Science and Technology and AAAS Project 2061 signed in September 2008. Over the five-year agreement, the organizations will explore similarities and differences between the U.S. and Chinese approaches to promoting science literacy. This agreement builds on a broader memorandum of understanding between AAAS and the China Association for Science and Technology signed in October 2007.

Jo Ellen Roseman

Project 2061 Director Jo Ellen Roseman said that many of the challenges the delegation cited as difficulties in science education innovation are similar to concerns she hears from teachers in the United States.

"These issues that you encounter designing, implementing, and evaluating science education methods are the same that we have here," Roseman said to the delegation. "Although small differences might exist in their methods, both countries recognize the importance of science and technological education to their country's future."

Throughout the workshop, Project 2061 staff led sessions encouraging the delegation to ask questions about the center's resources, including Benchmarks for Science Literacy, which identifies a set of learning goals in the natural and social sciences, mathematics, and technology that all students should achieve at the different grade levels to achieve the goal of science literacy by the time they graduate from high school. A second resource,Atlas of Science Literacy 1 and 2, place 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.

Established in 1985, Project 2061 is a long-term initiative of AAAS to reform K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. The project is named for the year that Halley's Comet will become visible to Earth again, reminding society of the importance of long term reform for promoting scientific literacy through education.

In 1989, Project 2061 published a pioneering initiative entitled Science for All Americans, 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.

As part of the memorandum of cooperation, Project 2061 Deputy Director George DeBoer traveled to Shanghai in October 2008 for the Shanghai International Forum on Science Literacy of Precollege Students to deliver a keynote lecture on the history and current state of U.S. science education, as well as Project 2061's role in developing national science standards. He was joined by Illinois physics teacher Diane Riendeau, 2008 winner of AAAS's Leadership in Science Education Prize for High School Teachers.

DeBoer said after the workshop that Project 2061 agreed to work collaboratively with the Shanghai Association for Science and Technology so that they could "learn from each other about the importance of science in each of our societies and ways to organize and communicate science knowledge in our respective settings."

"One of the things that makes collaborating with our colleagues in China successful is that we share many of the same values concerning the importance of education in a society, and especially the importance of a sound grounding in science," he said.

He added that Chinese educators are very interested in finding out what works in the real world of schools and can offer differing perspectives on many important educational issues such as the appropriate times to teach various science concepts.

"The discussions about sequencing of content help each of us develop better reasons for our decisions," said DeBoer. "I have always believed it was useful to step back and look at one's own work through the eyes of others."

DeBoer said that Project 2061 hopes to build the collaboration into an international forum that goes beyond the current basic agreement and is currently seeking new funding sources.