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Designs for Science Literacy

Guiding K–12 curriculum reform

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This resource can also be read online.

Treating curriculum reform as a design problem is a basic proposition of Designs for Science Literacy. Designs, and its companion CD-ROM Designs on Disk, deal with the critical issues involved in assembling sound instructional materials into a coherent K-12 whole. Rather than providing step-by-step instructions for creating an actual curriculum, Designs guides readers in applying general design principles to specific aspects of the curriculum. By offering a variety of options for restructuring time, instructional strategies, and content, Designs shows how to approach the curriculum design challenge in different ways to create very different curricula that serve a common set of learning goals.

Many educators are familiar with Project 2061's publications, Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy, which describe the knowledge and skills in science, mathematics, and technology that are central to science literacy and the specific learning goals that lead toward science literacy for students at specific grade levels. These documents, as well as subsequent state and national science education standards, provoked important discussions, nationally and locally, about what students should learn, but the documents did not suggest how to reconfigure the entire K-12 curriculum to meet those science literacy goals.

Designs begins with a discussion of general design principles and how they might relate to the curriculum. It then suggests ways to apply these principles to the task of curriculum reform, with a focus on short-term improvements while working toward broader and more lasting change.

Building a Coherent, Learning Goals Based Local Curriculum

Curriculum change in schools is most often piecemeal, done separately for different subjects and different grade ranges. How might a school district go about designing a curriculum—the entire scope and sequence of subjects and courses across all grades from kindergarten through high school? Designs is intended to serve the diverse participants who are involved in this task by:

  • Offering a conceptual framework that educators can use to apply general design principles to their work on the curriculum.
  • Encouraging school systems to adopt a curriculum design process that centers on learning goals; engages as many stakeholders as possible; takes a systematic approach; and evaluates risks, benefits, and tradeoffs.
  • Helping curriculum designers to consider the science, mathematics, and technology components of the curriculum in relation to each other and within the context of the K-12 curriculum.
  • Envisioning how a curriculum might be assembled from a pool of high-quality instructional blocks of various sizes from week-long units to year-long courses.
  • Providing teacher educators with a resource for teaching the principles of curriculum analysis and design as an essential part of pre-service training.
  • Enabling school districts to begin making changes in their curriculum that will provide a foundation for the curriculum of tomorrow. For example, Designs discusses how to build local professional capacity, ways to reduce the core content of the overstuffed curriculum, and ways to enhance connections across subjects and grades.

In all cases, Designs encourages a deliberative, goals-based approach to curriculum improvement. While upholding ambitious learning goals nationwide, Designs aims to encourage diverse curricula suited to the needs of individual schools, communities, and students.


Excerpts from Chapter 7: Unburdening the Curriculum

Among the many recommendations for improving the coherence and effectiveness of the K-12 curriculum, Designs for Science Literacy provides some strategies for "reallocating time—time to focus on understanding important facts, principles, and applications in science, mathematics, and technology."


Related Focus Areas

Related Scientific Disciplines