Posted by: Jamie | March 13, 2012

This is what it’s all about. (continued)

Yesterday I introduced the K-12 science education framework that has been developed by the National Research Council of the National Academies. Today I’ll follow up by sharing my notes on the talk given by Dr. Helen Quinn.

Interesting changes

One significant and interesting change that the framework seeks to introduce into the notion of “core ideas” is that they should not necessarily be what experts in those fields would normally call “core,” but rather that they should encompass what is teachable and learnable. For example:

Physical Sciences

  1. Matter and its interactions
  2. Motion & stability: forces and interactions
  3. Energy
  4. Waves and their applications in technologies for information transfer

Items 1-3 on that list are pretty standard as far as core concepts in that subject go. Normally, though, number 4 is covered under the topic of Energy. The framework highlights and draws out this concept because it is now extremely relevant and applicable. This makes it a concept that is both teachable and learnable, and also one that is (perhaps most importantly) relevant. There isn’t really an excuse for a modern citizen not to have a good grasp on the science underlying the “technologies for information transfer” – aka radio, internet, cell phones, etc. (I’ve got my fingers crossed that with this particular idea drawn out and prioritized, we might see a decrease over the next few decades in the number of folks freaking out about electromagnetic radiation coming from power lines.)

A second interesting development is in the categorization of core topics. Physics, Chemistry, and Biology are the typical science subjects at present. The new framework recommends, for example, making “Earth & Space Sciences” into its own subject.

Earth & Space Sciences

  1. Earth’s place in the universe
  2. Earth’s systems
  3. Earth and human activity

There is also a separate set of Core Ideas defined for applications and engineering. Engineering and “pure” science are usually lumped together, but that underserves both the topics.

Ultimately, the goal of this framework is this:

In K-12 education, students must develop a coherent framework onto which they can attach new ideas and future interests.

A K-12 science education should serve the best interests of all of its students, not just those who will one day pursue a career in a science, technology, engineering, or medical field.

Challenges ahead

As I’ve emphasized repeatedly, the framework is a vision. It defines no requirements, writes no curricula. Those tasks are up to the states to take care of, though an organization called Achieve is working with partner states to complete this goal. And there are a lot of challenges to be overcome.

Challenge: Teacher Preparation
Most elementary school teachers take only one science class in college. Middle school science teachers are hit or miss. And many high schools have only one science teacher with more than one year of college-level science courses. The new framework seeks to teach science progressively over the entirety of K-12 education (as opposed to mostly lumping it into discrete subject matters in a given year). This goal will require a new approach to teacher preparation. One item on the list is a serious revision of most college “Science Teaching Methods” courses. There must also be new resources applied to teacher in-service days to bring the right information and tools to currently-practicing teachers.

Challenge: Curriculum Materials and Courses
How many years of science should be required? (Most high schools do not require nearly enough to cover all the information laid out in the framework.) How do AP classes fit in to this new regime? How does one test adherence to the standards, and at what levels does that testing happen? These are all questions that have to be addressed by the states as they begin to develop their new curricula. The partnership of the states and Achieve will be absolutely crucial to meeting this challenge.

Let me explain. No, there is too much…

There is so much work left to be done. But after listening to Dr. Quinn give her talk on Monday, I am encouraged that there is a clear direction to take in completing that work. The Next Generation Science Standards have begun their development process, now that the framework has been released. There are a lot of really smart, dedicated people working on this project, and I intend to support them, especially when it comes time to convince legislators to sign off. Every student deserves a meaningful, applicable, accessible science education.



  1. I found this interesting. We too are looking at developing curriculum to the new “Core Standards” where I teach. We have some very positive people as well as some negative. It will all work out I hope. As department chair I have the task of making sure we are all on the same page. Any comments.

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