Overview of the Science Standards Movement
Two organizations are in the vanguard of USA reform in elementary science education. They are the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the National Academy of Sciences, through its National Research Council (NRC). A common goal promoted by these associations is that all students should become scientifically literate. Differences exist among the associations, however, in type and extent of the science content needed to achieve scientific literacy. A scientifically literate person is generally accepted as being familiar with: the nature of science and how it is performed, the key components making up the body of scientific body of knowledge, the human contexts of science--including science's reciprocal development with technology. With this understanding about aspects of science, the scientifically literate person can then better participate in personal decision-making and in civic life.
Documents crafted by these three organizations, Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1989, 1993), and the National Science Education Standards (NAS, 1996), all advocate dramatic changes in the teaching of science. Primarily, large portions of content are suggested to be eliminated ("less is more") so that more emphasis can be placed on students' sense making, translating, and placing knowledge in a social, cultural, and historical context. Four aspects of good teaching described in the documents are:
* choosing worthwhile scientific tasks
* orchestrating classroom discourse
* placing an emphasis on the classroom environment
* recognizing a need to increase knowledge and beliefs about science
Implications for teaching science include:
* using "hands-on, minds-on" activities
* investigating a few questions in depth as opposed to "covering" vast amounts of science content in the abstract
* connecting school science with the everyday world of the student
* allowing students to share and test ideas with their classmates and beyond.
Summaries of documents:
National Science Education Standards (National Academy of Sciences, 1996).
The National Science Education Standards project was started with funds from the U.S. Department of Education. In the spring of 1991, the President of the National Science Teachers Association wrote the Chair of the National Research Council (NRC) and requested that he convene and coordinate a process with the goal of creating science education standards, K-12. After much discussion, the NRC agreed to take the lead in this matter. In 1992, a Chair's Advisory Committee was formed, consisting of representatives of the National Science Teachers Association, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of Physics Teachers, American Chemical Society, Council of State Science Supervisors, Earth Science Education Coalition, and the National Association of Biology Teachers. This group participated in identifying and recruiting CO-Directors of the staff and volunteers to serve on an oversight committee and its three working groups, dealing with curriculum standards, teaching standards, and assessment standards. The outline for the standards is divided in three categories of grades (K-4), (5-8), and (9-12).
Project 2061: Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993).
Benchmarks came about as a result of the success of Science For All Americans (1989). In that document, a set of adult science literacy goals were promulgated. In Benchmarks, a set of tools for meeting those goals is presented. These goals are envisioned being used to guide science educators who design K-12 curricula. Notably, Benchmarks integrates mathematics and technology with a consideration of science. The twelve categories of Benchmarks are:
* the nature of science
* the nature of mathematics
* the nature of technology
* the physical setting
* the living environment
* the human organism
* human society
* the designed world
* the mathematical world
* historical perspectives
* common themes
* habits of mind
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (1989). Science for all americans. New York: Oxford University Press.
National Research Council (NRC) (1996). National science education standards. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.