Brian Reiser on National Panel That Issues New Research-Based Science Education Framework

Brian Reiser on National Panel That Issues New Research-Based Science Education Framework

Brian Reiser
National Research Council report guides new national standards for science teaching.

With the aim of making big improvements in K-12 science education in the United States, the National Research Council released a report that offers a new framework for science teaching. SESP learning sciences professor Brian Reiser is a member of the committee that prepared the report, which identifies the key scientific concepts and practices that all students should learn.

The report will serve as the basis for new K-12 science education standards nationally.

The main goal of the framework, according to the report, is to ensure that by the end of high school all students have some appreciation of science, the ability to discuss and think critically about science-related issues, and the skills to pursue careers in science or engineering – areas where current educational approaches fall short.

Greater coherence is needed in the teaching of science, according to Reiser, who emphasizes the value of new research. “We’ve learned an awful lot about how children learn and ways to develop environments to support science learning. … The research points us to what is possible and helps us articulate this vision for what really effective science education should be,” Reiser told Education Week.

The report says that problems with current approaches to science education include an emphasis on breadth over depth and a lack of systematic teaching of key ideas throughout the grades. Science education also needs to provide students with “engaging opportunities to experience how science is actually done,” the report says.

The committee recommends core ideas that students need to learn by the end of 12th grade. Students’ knowledge of these ideas should deepen over time, and the report specifies what students should know by the end of grades two, five, eight and 12. “Each of our core ideas appears in each of these grade bands. We’re trying to articulate a way that children can develop more and more sophisticated ideas building on these prior ideas,” Reiser explained.

Based on the committee’s framework, specific standards will be developed in a process led by a group of states and coordinated by the nonprofit educational organization Achieve Inc. Then states may voluntarily adopt the standards to guide science education in public schools, replacing the standards created more than a decade ago. The NRC framework will also guide the work of those who develop curriculums, train teachers and conduct research in education.

The framework identifies seven crosscutting concepts that have explanatory value across much of science and engineering, such as “cause and effect” and “stability and change.” These concepts should be taught in the context of core ideas from the disciplines of science, the report says, but teachers should use a common language for these concepts across disciplines, so that students understand the same concept is relevant in many fields.  These concepts should become familiar touchstones as students progress from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Just as important are scientific and engineering practices, which have been given too little emphasis in K-12 education, the committee said. The framework specifies eight key practices that students should learn, such as asking questions and defining problems, analyzing and interpreting data, and constructing explanations and designing solutions. These practices should be integrated with study of the disciplinary core ideas and applied throughout students’ K-12 education.

These three dimensions must be used together for students to understand how science works, the committee stressed.  For example, students should use the practices -- such as conducting investigations and then analyzing and interpreting the data -- to deepen their knowledge of the core ideas.

The framework was developed by an 18-member committee that includes experts in education and scientists from various disciplines. The report, entitled "A Framework for K-12 Science Education," is available online.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 10/2/13