Science Education Goals for the 21st Century: National Standards and Benchmarks (page 3)
In contemporary reform, the configuration of goals for science education should relate to the overall purpose of achieving scientific literacy. Thus, any review of national standards should assess the degree to which the standards incorporate the acquisition of scientific knowledge, development of inquiry abilities and understandings, and understanding of the applications of science (especially personal and social aspects of science, and the history and nature of science and technology). Further, those implementing the Standards, Benchmarks, and state and local frameworks should review the priorities and emphases suggested for the different goals.
The science content presented in the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) describes major concepts as well as fundamental concepts and abilities for all students. Content only represents one component of a comprehensive view of science education expressed by the national standards. This comprehensive view includes teaching and assessment. The National Science Education Standards organize science content 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
- Unifying Concepts and Processes
The standard Science as Inquiry has two features, the ability to do inquiry and the development of understandings about scientific inquiry. The inquiry standard emphasizes the students’ ability to ask scientific questions; plan and conduct investigations; use appropriate tools, techniques, and educational technologies; think critically and logically about the relationship between evidences and explanations; construct and analyze alternative explanations; and communicate scientific investigations and explanations.
Understandings about scientific inquiry generally parallel abilities. For example, the national standards encourage the students’ development of knowledge about the types of questions scientists ask, the various reasons for conducting investigations, technology’s role in inquiry, criteria for acceptable scientific explanations, and the results and use of scientific inquiry.
The inquiry standard emphasizes the students’ ability to think critically and to use observations and knowledge to construct scientific explanations. The Standards have moved science education a step beyond the traditional processes of science, which centered on students engaging in activities emphasizing skills such as observing, inferring, hypothesizing, experimenting, and controlling variables. These processes of science are obviously included in Science as Inquiry, but the Standards require students to use the processes, combined with existing knowledge, as a means to gather evidence used in their analysis, reasoning, and construction of other scientific understanding.
The Standards include Science and Technology, in which students would develop abilities of technological design as well as greater understanding of science and technology. The standard intentionally parallels the abilities outlined in Science as Inquiry. The difference between the standards is based on the difference between scientific inquiry and technological design. The latter includes identifying a problem, proposing designs and selecting from alternative solutions, implementing a solution, evaluating the solution, and communicating the problem, process, and solution.
In the National Science Education Standards, inquiry and design serve to (1) assist students in the development of their understanding of scientific concepts, (2) help students answer the question, “How do we know what we know in science?” (3) introduce one aspect of the nature of science, (4) develop abilities of critical thinking, scientific reasoning, and critical analysis, and (5) acquire the habits of mind associated with science and technology.
The Standards and Benchmarks have defined a wide range of scientific knowledge and emphasize that the content of secondary school science programs is not strictly confined to the physical, life, and earth sciences. However, three standards outline major concepts and fundamental understandings of physical, life, and earth sciences, three major divisions of the scientific disciplines. The below table presents the conceptual organizers for these major divisions of science.
Physical, Life, and Earth and Space Science Standards
Grade Physical Science Standards Life Science Earth and Space Science K-4
- Properties of Objectives
- Position and Motion of Objects
- Light, Heat, Electricity, and Magnetism
- Characteristics of Organisms
- Life Cycles of Organisms
- Organisms and Environments
- Properties of Earth Materials
- Objects in the Sky
- Changes in Earth and Sky
- Properties and Changes in Properties of Matter
- Motions and Forces
- Transfer of Energy
- Structure and Function in Living Systems
- Reproduction and Heredity
- Regulation and Behavior
- Populations and Ecosystems
- Diversity and Adaptations of Organisms
- Structure of the Earth System
- Earth's History
- Earth in the Solar System
- Structure of Atoms and Materials
- Structure and Properties of Matter
- Chemical Reactions
- Motion and Force
- Conservation of Energy and the Increase in Disorder
- Interactions of Energy and Matter
- Molecular Basis of Heredity
- Biological Evolution
- Interdependence of Organisms
- Matter, Energy, and Organization in Living Systems
- Behavior of Organisms
- Energy in the Earth System
- Geochemical Cycles
- Origin and Evolution of the Earth System
- Origin and Evolution of the Universe
In the standards on Science and Technology, understandings highlight the connections between science and technology and maintain a view of the scientific and technologic enterprise (for example, a larger and external view of science and technology in society). Examples of understandings include the similarities and differences between science and technology; the contributions of science to technology and technology to science; and the understanding that different people in different cultures have made, and continue to make, contributions to science and technology.
The scientific knowledge outlined in the Standards also includes the History and Nature of Science. The standard does not imply that students develop understandings of a complete history of science. Rather, science teachers can present history to clarify various aspects of scientific inquiry, the human dimensions of science, and the various roles science has played in Western and non-Western cultures.
Overview of the History and Nature Science Standards
Grade Standards K-4
- Science as a Human Endeavor
- Science as a Human Endeavor
- Nature of Science
- History of Science
- Science as a Human Endeavor
- Nature of Scientific Knowledge
- Historical Perspectives
The National Science Education Standards also include Unifying Concepts and Processes within the goal of scientific knowledge. These standards present major conceptual and procedural schemes that unify science disciplines and, when understood, provide students with powerful ways of understanding the natural and designed world. Unifying Concepts and Processes do not have specific grade-level designations; rather, science teachers should continually bring these ideas to awareness in appropriate contexts, based on students’ experiences. Specific understandings included in this standard are as follows:
- Systems, order, and organization- Levels of organization, systems, prediction, and a statistical view of nature
- Evidence, models, and explanation- Observations, data, models, hypothesis, law, and theory
- Constancy, change, and measurement- Interactions, rate, scale, patterns, quantitative aspects of change, conservation of energy and matter
- Evolution and equilibrium- Gradual changes, present as connected to the past, descent from common ancestors, homeostasis, and energy content and distribution
- Form and function- Complimentarity, natural and designed world, and systems and subsystems
Personal Needs and Societal Issues
One fundamental purpose of science teaching is to help students understand and act on various issues and challenges they will confront as individuals and as citizens. The Standards recognize this goal through inclusion of Science in Personal and Social Perspectives. These standards provide a context and topics for science curriculum and instructions.
Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Grade Standards K-4
- Personal Health
- Characteristics and Changes in Populations
- Types of Resources
- Changes in Environments
- Science and Technology in Local Challenges
- Personal Health
- Populations, Resources, and Environments
- Natural Hazards
- Risks and Benefits
- Science and Technology in Society
- Personal and Community Health
- Population Growth
- Natural Resources
- Environment Quality
- Natural and Human-Induced Hazards
- Science and Technology in Local, National, and Global Challenges
The Standards have an explicit goal supporting career awareness; however, they do not have a standard emphasizing careers. It should be clear that the experience implied by the understandings and abilities outlined in the Standards would have a positive benefit on students’ attitudes and inclinations toward careers in, for example, science, engineering, and the health professions.
The National Science Education Standards present a fairly balanced approach to the goals of science education, with career awareness as the exception. Further, the Standards align quite well with the dimensions of scientific literacy. The content standards form a complete set of outcomes for students. Development of students’ understandings, attitudes, and abilities are grounded in scientific investigations, and they form a solid foundation in life, earth, and physical sciences and apply fundamental understanding and ability within various personal, social, and historical perspectives. Although balanced, thorough, and clearly aligned with long-standing goals of science education, the National Science Education Standards must be transformed in curriculum materials, instructional practices, and assessment strategies.
© ______ 2008, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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