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Sunday, August 22, 2010

National Science Standards Coming

By David Wojick Ph.D.
Co-Director of the STEM Education Center

The National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences has embarked on a bold project to kick off the development of a new generation of K-12 science education standards. A NRC committee of scholars is developing a “conceptual framework” for the new national standards. See:

My STEM Ed Center colleague Bernie Monahan and I each submitted comments on the draft NRC Framework document. They draw upon our new empirical model of which science concepts are taught when in K-12. Our model is basically a set of lists of those science terms that are typically taught in the USA, sorted by grade level. Here are the links to our comments:



Our working definition of a concept is "what you have to know to use a term correctly." That is, a concept is a body of core knowledge. So our lists of terms are actually lists of basic concepts, not just vocabulary lists. Our model is not about words; it is about knowledge.

The grade levels are our estimate of the mean average grade at which each concept is taught in the USA, based on a sample of state standards. The range for a given concept among the states can be quite large, to the point where the average grade is actually the exception. So we are not recommending these grades as necessarily the ones a standard should specify, although it might minimize disruption if that were done. The grades are simply empirical data. But as we note in our comments, the Framework grade bands are structurally inconsistent with actual practice.

Our basic finding is that it looks like we teach these concepts at a rate of between one to two concepts per hour. This seems like a heavy load indeed, so I call science education today a “marathon of sprints.” Moreover, every concept is clearly significant, so there is no obvious slack in the system. Hence our conclusion is that new concepts can only be added if some are taken out.

By the same token, some of the new methods being proposed for teaching these concepts appear to take longer on a per concept basis. This is especially true for collaborative inquiry methods. If so then adopting these methods would also require dropping some concepts from the standards, perhaps a lot of concepts. As I say in my comments, it looks like a zero sum game. That is the fundamental challenge.

By way of a personal introduction, here is an early article about my regulatory work. My background is in concept analysis and confusion: http://www.stemed.info/engineer_tackles_confusion.html. I am approaching the science standards issue as a regulatory problem, not an educational one. That is, it is about writing the right rules. Standards are rules.

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