2061 Connections
An electronic newsletter for the science education community

September 2004

Discovering Standards-Based Resources through Interactive Strand Maps
NSDL Strand Map Service brings greater coherence and flexibility to accessing online resources

When AAAS Project 2061 published its first volume of conceptual strand maps in Atlas of Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science [AAAS], 2001), we knew that the maps’ graphic representation of connections among learning goals offered an exciting new window onto how students might develop their understanding and skills from one grade level to the next. By taking the K–12 learning goals established in Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993) and showing the explicit connections among them, Atlas maps could help educators visualize the “big picture” of student understanding and plan instruction accordingly (see sample strand maps). Educators have welcomed the strand map format and have been using Atlas to clarify the meaning of individual learning goals; to understand how those goals build on and support one another; to connect state and district standards to national standards; and to align curriculum, instruction, and assessment to standards.

As useful as Atlas strand maps are in their print format (see related article in this issue), they also have much to offer in the digital realm. The maps’ many links among learning goals within and across topics make them an especially useful means of organizing and providing access to online resources. To expand the usefulness of strand maps as tools for advancing standards-based reform, Project 2061 has been exploring the potential of using strand maps as interfaces for browsing digital library resources linked to national standards for science learning. Through a collaboration with the University of Colorado and the Digital Library for Earth Science Education (DLESE), Project 2061 is helping to develop a Strand Map Service for the National Science Digital Library (NSDL), a National Science Foundation program. The NSDL Strand Map Service (the “Service”) enables digital libraries of all kinds to offer strand maps as the means through which their users can access educational resources related to science, mathematics, and technology.

Interactive Strand Maps in Action

Two NSDL projects have already begun to put the Service to work for their digital library collections. DLESE has created a Strand Map Service demonstrator site with fully functioning strand maps on four topics: Plate Tectonics, Flow of Matter in Ecosystems, Weather and Climate, and Changes in the Earth’s Surface. AAAS benchmarks on the maps link to associated Earth science resources, related benchmarks and National Science Education Standards (NSES), and research on student misconceptions and learning of specific ideas. (For the DLESE demonstrator site, see http://preview.dlese.org/sms/1. Try choosing Weather and Climate map > Water Cycle strand, then click on the K–2 benchmark, “When liquid water disappears, it turns into a gas (vapor) in the air and can…” Click on the Educational Resources button on the subsequent page to see a list of resources such as lesson plans that are related to that benchmark.) The technology is also being applied by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, whose Digital Video Library offers strand maps as one of several ways to search the Center’s vast collection of video related to science learning. (The strand map interface may be previewed at http://www.hsdvl.org by choosing “Using Strand Map” under “Search for videos,” although the video review data are still undergoing quality control checks and are not yet accessible via the maps.)

As these two examples show, the Service offers digital library developers the ability to construct customized browsing interfaces appropriate to the needs of their specific library audiences. K–12 educators and learners can then use the resulting interactive strand maps to discover educational resources that support specific learning goals while exploring the learning goals and their interconnections. Browsing digital library collections through strand maps helps educators stay focused on aligning curriculum materials, lessons, and assessments to learning goals, while helping them appreciate those goals within the context of the larger fabric of student understanding. In addition, strand map interfaces provide navigational and orientational cues that are typically lacking from traditional keyword or fielded search interfaces. Research indicates that concept map representations are useful cognitive scaffolds, helping users lacking domain expertise—such as learners, new teachers, or educators teaching out of area—to better understand the information as a whole (Hall, Hall, & Saling, 1999; O’Donnell, Dansereau, & Hall, 2002).

A Flexible Tool

Rather than simply making static representations of existing Atlas maps available electronically, Project 2061 has introduced the use of Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) technology to the NSDL in general and the Service in particular (Gu, Ahmad, Molina, & Sumner, 2004). Database-driven SVG techniques allow the Service to dynamically generate strand maps and map components from an electronic repository of AAAS benchmarks and their relationships. Digital libraries “talking” to the Service can then link their resources to benchmarks found on the strand maps as the maps are generated.

On the DLESE site, for example, digital library users can choose to view an entire strand map on a particular topic, a subtopic strand from a map, or a grade range from a map. The Service then retrieves the requested information from the benchmarks repository and generates—in real time—the appropriate visual display. One advantage of this technology is its flexibility: information can be culled from multiple topic area maps and displayed onscreen without manual intervention. For example, when DLESE users click on a benchmark on a map, they can then select the Related Benchmarks button. All other benchmarks linked to the clicked benchmark are then displayed, even if those goals cut across several topic areas.

The technology developed for the Strand Map Service has valuable applications for two of Project 2061’s current research and development projects: our collection of curriculum resources for use in developing new science curriculum materials (See article in the May 2004 issue of 2061 Connections), and our collection of assessment items and resources aligned to science and mathematics standards (See article in the July 2004 issue of 2061 Connections). Once these online collections are complete, Project 2061 can incorporate the Service so that strand maps become the primary interface for finding and exploring the collections’ resources. The interactive maps represent a novel means of organizing resources that are aligned to learning goals; they will help users browsing the collections to appreciate both the progression of student understanding and the importance of making connections among key ideas and skills.

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Project 2061 welcomes feedback on the usefulness of interactive strand maps as well as the usability of the DLESE and Harvard-Smithsonian Digital Video Library implementations. To share your feedback or for more information, please contact:

Technology Director: Dr. Francis Molina, (202) 326-7002


American Association for the Advancement of Science. (1993). Benchmarks for science literacy. New York: Oxford University Press.

American Association for the Advancement of Science. (2001). Atlas of science literacy. Washington, DC: Author.

Gu, Q., Ahmad, F., Molina, F., & Sumner, T. (2004). Dynamically generating conceptual browsing interfaces for digital libraries using SVG. Paper presented at the SVG Open 2004 Conference. Retrieved August 31, 2004, from http://www.svgopen.org/2004/papers/guDynamicalVI3/

Hall, R. H., Hall, M.A., & Saling, C. B. (1999). The effects of graphical postorganization strategies on learning from knowledge maps. Journal of Experimental Education, 67(2), 101–112.

O’Donnell, A. M., Dansereau, D. F., & Hall, R. H. (2002). Knowledge maps as scaffolds for cognitive processing. Educational Psychology Review, 14(1), 71-86.

1 : The NSDL has adopted the Strand Map Service as one of the primary tools for teachers and students to find resources that relate to specific science and math concepts. The Service generates what have been called Science Literacy Maps. These maps have quickly become the most frequently accessed link on NSDL’s home page. The service can be found at http://strandmaps.dls.ucar.edu/.

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