Comments Preliminary Draft "A Framework for Science Education.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

National Research Council

RE: Preliminary Public Draft on “A Framework for Science Education”
 Committee on Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards

by Bernadette Monahan, MA Ed
Co-director of the STEM Education Center

July 30, 2010

Dear Committee Members,

I would like to begin by applauding you on your excellent effort to create a more unified framework for science education.  As a member of the education community, I am very aware of the need to create classrooms in which young people can better understand their world around them and contribute to creating a better place for all people.  With that said, I would like to comment on your framework.

The document does an excellent job of explaining the science behind science and engineering education.  There is a need for fewer, higher, and clearer standards as well as national conceptual framework for science education. There is a need for better understanding of the history, practices, and creativity in the fields of science and engineering.  The document is well researched and has presented a good understanding of how children learn by scaffolding, or spiraling their learning.  A deep understanding of any subject “occurs over a period of years rather than weeks or months.”

As an educator in the classroom and an education researcher, there are several concerns, which the Committee should consider.   In Dimension 1, you state that you have identified fewer Core Ideas or concepts than those already present in today’s standards.  However, this is not true.  You do not identify which Core Ideas of science that are left out, but instead you have condensed them into three categories in which all of your science Core Ideas are presented and even added a fourth category for engineering and technology.

Every grade band contains each of the four Core Ideas, life science, Earth and space, physical sciences, and engineering and technology.  Each Core Idea contains at the minimum of 12 major science concepts along with at least three to seven key questions, in which more core ideas are covered. The content is enormous and there seems to be no reduction of information.   It appears that the framework still covers as much if not more material than what is currently defined in many of the state standards today.  In fact, the hundreds of K-12 science concepts found in the current science standards fall into families of concepts that are specifically identified in most standards.  The addition of the fourth category of engineering creates even more concepts to be mastered.

In Dimension 2 the Cross-Cutting Ideas of science, math, technology, and engineering are abstract concepts which in themselves add an enormous amount of information that must be woven into the additional curriculum.  These ideas are important to STEM education and do need to be addressed.  However, it states that these cannot and should not be taught as separate standards, or as separate units in a curriculum.  Are these then to be included in to the time frame of the Core Ideas? 

A possible solution would be to integrate instruction within several core subjects.  Time is a precious commodity in the today’s standard driven classroom.  We can no loner teach each subject; math, reading, history, and science as a separate entity.  There needs to be a marriage between all subjects given the small amount of time in which to teach everything.

In Dimension 3, the science and engineering practices, there is no doubt that these two disciplines are essential to preparing students for a deeper understanding of their “natural world” and their “designed world.” However, the time crunch is on in today’s classroom.   The idea that science and engineering practices, models, and theories can be covered in one hour sessions, along with the core ideas and cross-cutting elements is somewhat overly optimistic, to say the least.  As a classroom teacher, I understand first hand what the reality of teaching involves. The committee needs to take into consideration the actual classroom time that is needed to accomplish these goals as well as all other subjects.  Part of our research at the STEM Education Center has been to determine how much time is available for each “core idea” in science. Time is the key commodity in today’s classroom.

Next, the Learning Progression bands allow for no spiraling or revisiting of core ideas.   The framework states it is based on the interests and life experiences of the students.  However, many students come to school with very little understanding of the “natural world” and plenty of misconceptions.  Not all students receive a consistent and equitable education in science.  The Learning Progressions are based on the intuitive ideas children bring to school and as they “master” the core ideas, they move on.  What about the child who has not mastered these concepts or the student with a teacher who is inadequate or ill equipped in teaching the core ideas? The Learning Progressions provides no spiraling of ideas between the bands and handcuffs the states and teachers.  Stated within the document is “research indicates that one of the best ways for students to learn the core ideas of science is to learn successively more sophisticated ways of thinking about them over multiple years.”  Therefore, revisiting, spiraling the content provides numerous opportunities for students to “master “the content in a natural progression.

Time.  The commodity that defines instruction in today’s classroom.  We have a tug of war for time and instruction, which must be addressed by this committee and all others who are carving out a piece of the classroom day.  Math, reading, history, language arts, science, technology, art, PE, music, and even recess are all competing for that commodity.