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WASHINGTON- The National Academy of Sciences has at last released its draft guidelines for K-12 science education standards.

The standards are the culmination of a process which goes back at least as far as 1982 with the release of "A Nation at Risk". The process kicked into high gear in 1991 when President of National Science Teachers Association asked National Research Council to coordinate the process of creating national science education standards for K-12. The National Research Council, not wanting to act over the heads of high school science teachers, opted for a consensus building approach involving teachers, scientists and other educators. The consensus was to be based on a number of goals including:

  • definition of target level of science understanding for all K-12 students, with criteria for content and programs at K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 levels.

  • standards flexible enough to allow local variation and adaptation, but consistent enough to provide continuity for students moving from one school to another.

  • develop three inter-related sets of standards for teaching, curriculum and assessment.

  • standards for preparation and continuing development of teachers

  • a long term vision for science education

  • criteria for judging models, benchmarks, curricula and learning experiences developed under the guidelines or via state' local and teacher-directed initiatives.

  • teachers to have central involvement in development process as opposed to federal mandates from above.

The NAS draft based on the National Research Council's efforts have incorporated all of these goals. The draft emphasizes that a new kind of learning environment will be needed to accomplish many of the set goals. The new approach will involve more hands-on activities in order to increase the students ability to use scientific knowledge to solve problems and explain phenomena in the natural world, as well as to propose and evaluate alternative hypotheses.

"Memorizing a few scientific terms and definitions is not particularly interesting or exciting to students and does not make a person scientifically literate. By engaging students in hands-on, intellectually stimulating activities and encouraging them to ask questions and think critically, learning science becomes enjoyable and exciting. And by learning this way, students will develop skills that will help them make more informed decisions throughout their lives," said Dr. Bruce Alberts, President of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council.

The NAS draft is just that, a draft. The next step is a review process involving more than 200 focus groups at the local state and national level. (N.B. see AE teachers lounge for info. on AE focus group). The focus groups will include teachers, parents, scientists and school administrators, among others.

"Our aim is to use the draft to build a national consensus about what is important in science education," said Richard Lausner, chair of the science education standards project and Chief, Cell Biology and Metabolism Branch, National Institute of Child health and Human Development.

The proposed standards are divided into eight categories: science as inquiry; physical science; life science; earth and space science; science and technology; science in personal and social perspectives; history and nature of science; the unifying concepts of science.

The new standards recommend that:

  • By grade four, students should understand: properties of objects and materials; life cycles of organisms; objects in the sky; local implications of science and technology.

  • By grade eight students should understand: the process of scientific inquiry; motions and forces, reproduction and heredity; Earth's history; basic history of science

  • By the 12th grade students should understand: chemical reactions; natural resources; the nature of scientific knowledge.

The initial draft of the National Science Education Standards runs a couple of hundred pages and includes detailed descriptions of standards for content, for teaching and for assessment.

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