Friday, September 16, 2011

Connecting the New Framework for K-12 Science Education to Earth Science Bigger Ideas: An Updated Rainbow Chart

This summer, the National Research Council released A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.* This post provides a very, very brief overview of the new Framework and maps its Earth and Space Science Core Ideas onto the Bigger Earth System Science Ideas from the ReaL Earth Inquiry Project.

The Framework will be the guide for the development of the next generation of science standards. The National Science Education Standards (NSES) are due for an overhaul (or replacement) as they are now 15 years old.

NSES were a great step forward in the field of science education, bringing more focus upon inquiry and narrowing the overloaded curriculum, but they didn't go far enough. Furthermore, the great ideas in  NSES didn't make large changes in practices in the majority of classrooms. Fortunately, those ideas did filter to some classrooms and students. The new Framework also represents a great step forward (if its ideas impact classrooms).

The Framework describes science across three dimensions:
  1. Scientific and Engineering Practices
  2. Crosscutting Concepts
  3. Disciplinary Core Ideas
    • Physical Science
    • Life Science
    • Earth and Space Science
    • Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Science
They are shown slightly expanded in Figure 1, below.

Figure 1: The Three Dimensions of A Framework for Science Education (from page ES-3) 

Just looking at the outline of the Framework's three dimensions highlights the scale of change the Next Generation Standards hope to bring. Only one of the three dimensions is focused on what we traditionally think of as science content, the rest, the majority, is focused on the nature of science. That's the stuff that helps us see where science comes from and why it matters. I think the first two dimensions are the most powerful pieces of this new document.

It's not the part I worked on. I was a member of the Earth & Space Science Design Team that drafted the Core Ideas for that section of the third dimension. While some of my fingerprints remain in that section, I was a bit player, especially since the Core Ideas in all areas were substantially revised after they left the hands of the Design Teams. (Even if my fingerprints were more clear in the Core Ideas, I'd still identify the other dimensions as more important). The impact of the revisions are most apparent in the fact that the so-called ideas are no longer ideas, but rather topics.

It's an idea that the Earth is a system of systems. Earth's systems is a topic. It's an idea that the flow of energy drives the cycling of matter. These ideas, or their close cousins, were in earlier drafts and I won't hesitate to say that I prefer them to the topics that made the final cut. But, I'm also very pleased that the Frameworks do bring focus to small sets of Core Ideas in each of four disciplinary areas. That has the potential for a much more coherent and manageable conceptual framework than anything from NSES.

Speaking of conceptual frameworks, you might be wondering how the Earth & Space Science Core Ideas map onto the Earth Science Bigger Ideas from the Regional and Local Earth Inquiry Project, and to the Essential Principles from the various Earth Systems Science Literacy Initiatives. (Ok, you might not be wondering that, but maybe you should).

The Prezi below includes an expanded version of the Rainbow Charts that map the various Big and Bigger Ideas, Core Ideas, and Essential Principles together, color-coded by Bigger Idea. Areas highlighted in white represent nature of science issues addressed by the overarching questions.

If you'd like to print a copy, you can follow the link embedded in the Prezi, or go here, or click on the thumbnail image below. It is formatted to print on legal-sized paper.

For more on Bigger Ideas, see:
I've not mentioned how the Framework sketches out how understandings of the Dimensions and Core Ideas are to be built over multiple years of instruction. That's hugely important and fundamental to why successful students have long graduated from school without deep understandings of basic science. 

This is but a very brief introduction to some of the ideas in the new Framework. If you're a science educator, (and if you're a parent, you're a science educator) you should give it a close look.

Don Duggan-Haas

*Clicking on the link will bring you to Framework page from National Academy Press where you can download the full document free as a pdf. All National Academy Press publications are now available as free pdfs.

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