I need to spend more time with the document, but here are my preliminary observations...
The Introduction starts off with some background on their (National Academies of Science Board of Science Education) vision. It sounds promising:
This framework is an attempt to move science education toward a more coherent vision in three ways. First, it focuses on a limited number of core ideas in science and engineering both within and across the disciplines. The committee made this choice to avoid shallow coverage of a large number of topics and to allow more time for teachers and students to explore each idea in greater depth. Reduction of the sheer sum of details to be mastered gives time for students to engage in scientific investigations and argumentation and to achieve depth of understanding of the material that is included.
It has long been my dream that every content area identify what is truly essential for students to know and be able to do---not a wishlist of 1001 things kids should regurgitate. Maybe this time, someone will finally show some leadership?
Later in the first chapter, we get to a list of the Core Ideas. This is not so different from other standards that are out there, but the format is new: They take the form of essential (my word, not theirs) questions. I kinda like this. So, for the Life Sciences, we have
- How do living things do what they need to do so they can live, grow, and reproduce?
- How are characteristics of one generation of organisms passed to the next and what are the consequences regarding inheritance and variation across generations?
- How and why do organisms interact with other organisms and their environment? What happens to ecosystems as a result of these interactions?
- How can we explain the many different kinds of plants, animals, and microorganisms? Why are there are so many similarities among organisms? More generally, how can the diversity within this unity be explained? What is the relationship between biodiversity and humans?
And then, there is a metric assload of text to read. I skimmed most of it, slowing down when I got to Chapter 5 and the examples of "Practices for Science Classrooms." Think of this section as a description of skills for investigation. No grade level sorts of goals or standards here, just things that look like this:
I'm not sure if this is more or less helpful than grade-level guidance. I'm also not sure about the term "competent." However, I might be willing to roll with these. I think for secondary students, they're nice descriptors. For elementary, they're too depressing. Who wants to tell the parent of a second grader that the work being done by the child is somewhere in the less than competent range...but that's probably okay because we aren't told when the kid should be competent (let alone proficient)?
Moving on, we finally get to the Pièce de Résistance: Chapter Seven, "Prototype Learning Progressions." This is the kind of thing teachers might be used to seeing, where there are specific learning targets listed by grade band. Here is an example:
Holy Standards, Batman! Oh, and the picture above represents the more shorthand method for these. There are going to also be tables for each of the boxes shown which go into
It is at this point that I switched into bean counter mode. There are 12 Core Ideas for Life Science, 14 for Earth Science, 11 for Physical Science, 12 for Engineering and Technology, plus the 16 Practices. Keep in mind that the graphic above is for one Core Idea. There are 49 of these (+16 tables), each with their own lists of learning targets.
The mind boggles.
What is listed for Grades 6 - 8 alone for this "Idea" would take weeks and weeks. What happened to the "choice to avoid shallow coverage of a large number of topics and to allow more time for teachers and students to explore each idea in greater depth" described in the vision for this document? Even divvying up the Core Ideas and Practices among the grade levels means that a student would need to reach mastery for one every two weeks. I know that it doesn't really work that way---we wouldn't teach them in isolation, but that is still too tight of a timeline. There is no way a teacher is going to provide meaningful learning experiences, gather formative assessment, re-teach as necessary, allow for practice with a concept, and collect a variety of summative assessment information in order to determine that students are ready to move forward within an average two-week period. These frameworks are therefore setting up the need for some truly shitty classroom instruction for science.
Look, I'm all for a scientifically literate society. But this document is no roadmap for that. So here are my suggestions:
- Significantly pare down the Core Ideas for Life, Earth, and Physical Science. Don't make science a collection of facts for students to memorize/learn. In my dream world of standards, there would be no more than three Ideas for each of these areas.
- Flesh out no more than 12 of the Practices (asking questions, modeling, interpreting data...). It is more important that we have a public who can think scientifically than recall the details of the Core Ideas. If we get graduates who can ask good questions and interpret data, we have a lot less to worry about in terms of people who don't "believe" in vaccinating children, evolution, climate change, etc.
- Reduce the number of Core Ideas for Engineering and Technology to no more than six (four would be better). I can't believe I'm actually saying this as this section is the weakest of our current state standards for science. But the ones here show some thought. More importantly, they get at the ideas of creative problem solving I posted about earlier in the week.