In 1989, when AAAS's Project 2061 published its first book, Science for All Americans, the authors described the nation's science and mathematics textbooks in terms that have since become familiar to policymakers and educators nationwide.
"The present science textbooks and methods of instruction, far from helping, often actually impede progress toward science literacy," the book said. "They emphasize the learning of answers more than the exploration of questions, memory at the expense of critical thought, bits and pieces of information instead of understandings in context, recitation over argument, reading in lieu of doing."
Now, thanks to a 5-year, $9.9-million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Project 2061 has an opportunity to take its work to a new level, with a program that will allow it to have a long-term impact on curriculum research and development, on the graduate schools that prepare the professionals who educate teachers, and on the methods and materials used to teach science and mathematics to American schoolchildren. With three midwestern universities as partnersMichigan State University, the University of Michigan, and Northwestern UniversityAAAS has created a "Center for Learning and Teaching," one of three funded this year by NSF to expand the nation's "intellectual infrastructure" for teaching science, mathematics, engineering and technology.
"What is exciting to me is how much of our work is coming together in this center," said Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, which was begun in 1985 to transform the way science and mathematics are taught in the United States.
"We've developed guidelines for how materials should be designed, and for judging what constitutes good teaching, and now we have the opportunity to put all that expertise to work."
As one of the NSF's five Centers for Learning and Teaching (CLT), the new Center for Curriculum Materials in Science is being asked to respond to the challenges cited by NSF in a 3 May document requesting proposals for its CLT grant program.
"The need to replace a large number of educators who are expected to retire over the next decade is widely understood, and recent studies have indicated that many inadequately prepared educators enter the profession each year," according to NSF's "program solicitation" for its Centers for Learning and Teaching grant program. "Replenishing and diversifying the instructional workforce, K16, and conducting ongoing research related to learning and teaching across the spectrum of these activities are clear national needs."
These are also among the goals of the new AAAS center, Roseman said. The partners have agreed to build up the field of professionals with advanced degrees who will become the future designers of instructional materials; to train science teachers and other professionals; and to conduct research that will guide the development of instructional materials for science, "at the highest level."
"We are working with smart, committed people," Roseman said. "The center will bring together scientists, education researchers, teacher education faculty, and local schoolteachers from the Chicago Public Schools, the Detroit Public Schools, and the Lansing School District."
David Campbell, program director for the NSF's Division of Elementary, Secondary and Informal Education, noted that the AAAS proposal had "filled a niche in the area of the development of instructional materials."
Together, the 10 NSF centers will work, "to enrich and diversify the national infrastructure for standards-based science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education," Campbell said.