Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Notes on Wiscasset session of Science Dine and Discuss regarding the National Academies Report entitled A Framework for K-12 Science Education

How's that for the longest title ever?

Last night I attended a Dine and Discuss session to unpack the current state of science standards in my fair state of Maine.  The session was led by a science specialist from Wiscasset, Shari Templeton, who kept us laughing as she explained, in part, the lengthy document known as "A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas".  (Want to download a free copy?  Find it here.) Let's call it "the Framework" to keep things simple. And kudos to Shari for running an informative meeting while maintaining a sense of humor and making us feel at ease.  Information and feeling informed is empowering, and I appreciate the state's effort to help keep science teachers and those interested in science in the loop while these changes are being implemented.

Some background: Maine has been chosen as a lead state in the development of new science standards.  The Framework is a guiding document, not the standards.  The standards are in process by an organization called Achieve, Inc.  (Side note: I had the opportunity to get on board with them when I was knee-deep in OER stuff--but declined due to content/time commitment--I could have been right on the pulse of this stuff if only I had jumped on that train!) The idea is that the folks at Achieve will use the Framework to guide them as they develop new standards that will be less "wide" and more "deep".  Maine adopted the Common Core standards for math and English language arts in 2011, and these new standards developed by Achieve (called the Next Generation Science Standards) will be ready by the end of 2012 for adoption.  For all intents and purposes, these Next Generation standards will become the Common Core for science.  Maine is definitely going to adopt them.

So, what is this Framework all about?  As Shari led us through the practices and crosscutting concepts, she assured us (a crowd of mostly practicing science teachers) that the information presented is not really new, it has definitely been covered in previous standards.  However the way that it is presented is much more integrated, includes engineering practices, and has some new vocabulary.  It is designed to get kids thinking deeply about science across the k-12 continuum. From the foreword: "The framework highlights the power of integrating understanding the ideas of science with engagement in the practices of science and is designed to build students' proficiency and appreciation for science over multiple years of school."

We looked at the 8 Science and Engineering practices and the Crosscutting concepts in the session. Shari started our session by saying it was no secret that Engineering is now front and center along with Science in terms of the standards.  In the state of Maine, we have more engineering jobs than engineering grads.  Simply put we need more people to think of engineering as a viable course of study, and it will now be part of the curriculum.

Here are the 8 Science and Engineering practices:
1.  Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
2.  Developing and using models
3.  Planning and carrying out investigations
4.  Analyzing and interpreting data
5.  Using mathematics and computational thinking
6.  Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
7.  Engaging in argument from evidence
8.  Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Here are the Crosscutting concepts:
1.  Patterns
2.  Cause and effect; Mechanism and explanation
3.  Scale, proportion, and quantity
4.  Systems and system models
5.  Energy and matter: Flows, cycles, and conservation
6.  Structure and function
7.  Stability and change

We touched on the Disciplinary Core Ideas in the four areas of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences, and Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Sciences.  We looked at grade bands--the Framework is set up to say "by the end  of grade 2 students the end of grade 5 students the end of grade 8 students will...." meaning that these core ideas are presented over time in an integrated way.

One teacher present asked for exemplars or models of how this integration over time will occur.  She, like many good teachers, makes a lot of her own lessons and units, and exemplars will certainly help with that. She made the point that inquiry based learning, while the richest, takes the longest, and that working with other content areas that have different expectations can also take a long time--science teachers and English teachers really want different kinds of writing from their students. Since the standards are not ready to look at yet (Spring 2012 is the expected date to put eyes on them) there is no clear answer to the exemplar question yet.  Textbook companies, when the standards go live, will certainly be re-tooling their work to re-align. Shari also informed us that there will be a lot of overlap with math and ELA Common Core standards.   Maine assessments, assuming everything goes smoothly, will transition by 2015.

There are several guiding assumptions of the Framework which are worth sharing.  Children are born investigators and are able to build progressively more sophisticated explanations over time.  The Framework focuses on a limited set of core ideas in order to avoid the coverage of multiple disconnected topics.  Another assumption is that understanding develops over time and students need sustained opportunities to work with and develop the underlying ideas and to appreciate those ideas' interconnectedness over a period of years rather than weeks or months.  Also, science and engineering require both knowledge and practice -- "the theories, models, instruments, and methods for collecting and displaying data, as well as the norms for building arguments through evidence, are developed collectively in a vast network of scientists working together over extended periods".  It is important to connect to students' interests and experience, as research suggests this is critical to learning.  And finally, the idea of promoting equity is so that all students have high-quality opportunities combined with rigorous standards to engage in significant science and engineering learning.

Shari led us through an experiment designed to illustrate how implementation might occur with new standards.  We divided into groups and were asked to make a claim, show evidence, and then show reasoning for our claim.  This was a water based experiment and it was messy, hands-on, and everyone in the room became engaged with the experiment. (We filled a glass with water and put an index card over it.  We flipped the glass upside down and the water did not come out, it was capped by the card).

Our group made a claim, shared our evidence, and presented our reasoning--however we were not correct in our claim as to how the card and water stayed intact with the glass.  In fact, no one got it right--someone eventually Googled it which made us all laugh because we all know that is what the kids would do.  The point was, we were all involved.  We were all engaged.  And by the end, we all wanted to know WHY.  It opened up a different way of looking at the experiment--instead of a cookbook approach (step one, two, three--) it was more of a sandbox approach with lots of questions why and lots of experimentation.  I found I did not have the vocabulary to make sense of it--the ultimate answer had to do with molecular attraction, a concept I was not familiar with (I am a Spanish teacher, remember)--but that I was deeply curious after playing with the experiment.  The claim, evidence, reasoning piece made a lot of sense.  Teaching students to "argue" or defend their claim is central to the Framework.  Engaging them is also central--there is the idea that kids are naturally curious and we have to tap into that to engage them.

Long story short--the new standards are not ready yet, but the Framework is what will guide their creation, and the changes are designed to help Maine students reach their science and engineering potential over time.  As a non-science teacher I found the approach to creating new standards via this long report done by several professionals and research institutions an adequate/appropriate method.  I am excited at the prospect of creating integrated curriculum that engages students and helps them discover their world.


National Research Council. A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011.

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