Oct. 27, 2013 Teaching and learning science in U.S. K-12 schools just got more interesting. Working with the National Research Council (NRC), an advisory group of scientists, cutting-edge child education experts, and science teachers have developed the first set of science teaching standards in more than 15 years. This framework for science education offers students and teachers the means to engage with science through more hands-on experiences and includes a section on developing climate literacy, which has not previously been included.
Dr. Michael Wysession, science textbook author and associate professor of earth & planetary sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, served as a member of the NRC's Committee on a Conceptual Framework for New K-12 Science Education Standards, which helped put together the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Wysession is the lead-off speaker for the NGSS session at the meeting of The Geological Society of America in Denver this week. In his talk "Earth and Space Science in the Next Generation Science Standards," Wysession will emphasize the significant changes in the NGSS for the teaching of earth and space science.
Wysession says, "The greatest disservice you can do to American students is make them memorize long lists of facts." The new standards take the pressure off students and teachers by making experiential learning the focus, rather than working through a long list of facts. "Jargon is not the focus," he says, while asking questions is fundamental. Each of the eight science and engineering practices, presented in the NGSS, Wyession notes, "begins with a verb." These are 1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering); 2. Developing and using models; 3. Planning and carrying out investigations; 4. Analyzing and interpreting data; 5. Using mathematics and computational thinking; 6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering); 7. Engaging in argument from evidence; and 8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.
Wysession points out that teachers are now being asked to meet a growing demand: U.S. businesses are calling for a work force that is educated in science and technology. These new standards, and the classroom dynamics that they will help to create, are a huge step forward for both educators and businesses, as well as for students.
Susan M. Buhr-Sullivan of the University of Colorado Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), who will also speak in the kick-off session, writes, "The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) represents the best opportunity for geosciences education since 1996, describing a vision of teaching excellence and placing Earth and space science on a par with other disciplines."
Both Buhr-Sullivan and Wysession emphasize the need for "significant, sustained support and relationship-building between disciplinary communities" (Buhr-Sullivan) and that success in this endeavor requires geoscience institutions to respond creatively and constructively "to the opportunities and challenges that the NGSS present" (Wysession).
One of the biggest shifts in the NGSS, says Wysession, "is a real emphasis on the anthroposphere." The relevance of earth science and engineering to the human experience, and conversely, the impact of humans on earth systems, is presented in a way never attempted before. "Climate now is the capstone" for all interdisciplinary science, says Wysession. Climate literacy, says Wysession, "is critically important, for one, because it's an incredibly delicate system," which has shaped the evolution of life and human civilizations for eons.
Mark McCaffrey of the National Center for Science Education, who was recently interviewed about the NGSS on NPR's Morning Edition, agrees, pointing out that "The recently released Next Generation Science Standards, which many states are in the process of adopting, emphasize the human components of global change." McCaffrey is co-author on the GSA Annual Meeting session, "The Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN): Leveraging Reviewed Educational Resources and a Diverse Community to Achieve Climate Literacy Goals," and will present a talk on Wednesday titled "Grappling with Global Change: The Pedagogical Challenge of the 21st Century."
McCaffrey addresses the increased urgency for geoscientists and educators to improve climate literacy among educators and their students. However, climate literacy is not just about climate change. He writes that "Many educators consider global change and climate change to be synonymous, emphasizing atmospheric aspects of climate change but leaving out many other aspects of global change such as disease emergence that may be unrelated to direct climate impacts." This, he says, indicates "a need for high-quality resources and professional development to help prepare educators to teach their students about these 21st century challenges."
Dr. Tamara Shapiro Ledley of the Center for STEM Teaching and Learning, who will speak at the GSA Annual Meeting on Tuesday, discusses CLEAN in detail. She writes, "Climate change is affecting and will continue to affect a broad cross section of society around the globe. Addressing the environmental and societal issues and opportunities arising from climate change will require that the stakeholders of today and tomorrow become climate literate."
Dr. Anne Gold of CIRES, who will also speak on Tuesday morning, says, "One thing that I would stress also is that the NGSS stress the importance of students learning about climate change, the human impact and also about solutions. Energy is woven throughout the standards and provides an important key to both understanding the cause and finding solutions for human-caused climate change. Different national surveys and studies have shown that both students and adults have a poor understanding of the basics of energy awareness. The NGSS fill an important role in stressing the importance of this topic."
All researchers agree that science is an ideal method of communicating about the world, and the Next Generation Science Standards provide an excellent opportunity to make that communication clearer than ever before.
Dr. Michael J. Passow of Dwight Morrow High School, Englewood, New Jersey, and President-Elect of the National Earth Science Teachers Association organized this topical session to provide the opportunity for representatives from professional societies, universities, informal science institutions, and others to share strategies to support K-12 classroom teachers as the NGSS become implemented.
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