2061 Connections
An electronic newsletter for the science education community

November/December 2005

Field Notes
Educators share how they are using Project 2061 tools

This 2061 Connections report is the second in a series in which educators share—in their own words—how they are using AAAS Project 2061 reform tools to improve science and mathematics education.

Team working on the chemistry BIM
A team made up of an assistant superintendent, science supervisor, and three teachers use the Atlas of Science Literacy as they discuss the development of concepts across grade levels.

CONNECT-ED – New Jersey-based Professional Development Program Employs Project 2061 Tools

The Consortium for New Explorations in Coherent Teacher Education program (CONNECT-ED) is creating a unique professional development program with an extensive, dynamic partnership of 13 independent schools, school districts, and two additional higher education institutions in New Jersey, along with the Bristol-Myers Squibb Corporation and numerous regional and national supporting partners. (A complete list of partners is at the end of the article.)

Led by Rider University’s Science Education and Literacy Center (SELECT), this professional development program for K-12 teachers in mathematics and science employs two Project 2061 publications—Benchmarks for Science Literacy and Atlas of Science Literacy. District school-design teams use these two resources in addition to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, and the New Jersey Core Content Standards. District school-design teams are composed of three teachers, one each from elementary, middle and high school. These three-member teams create Big Idea modules (BIMs) to focus on the Big Ideas in science and mathematics addressing a set of selected benchmarks for a single Big Idea (often one on an Atlas map) and across the K-12 continuum.

The BIM assists teachers in contemplating growth and development of concepts across grade levels and how they build towards a single Big Idea. It also helps them to better appreciate their contribution to their students' education in the context of the entire K-12 curriculum picture. Evaluation comments indicate participants are benefiting from the professional development program. “I didn’t even know there was a big idea before I came,” remarked one teacher.

Participants also more concretely understand and experience the connections of concepts within and across disciplines in ways many have not previously thought about. This change in thinking is particularly apparent after they have a chance to work with Project 2061’s Atlas of Science Literacy while attending a series of BIMs during one of our week-long summer institutes. Some comments that we have heard:

  • “I can see how these Big Ideas and their benchmarks can change how we teach in general, not only in science.”

  • “I’ve just completed my first year of teaching science and I found that I tended to compartmentalize the concepts. Through the C-E [CONNECT-ED] experience, I have learned the value and importance of making connections.”

  • “Becoming familiar with the Atlas and seeing what comes before and after was a revelation for me, and I think that it is so important to explicitly show children how big ideas move across different areas of science so they can make sense of what they are learning and see its interconnectedness.”

Each year, newly designed BIMs are added to focus on a particular discipline, increasing the menu of BIM options for all consortium members. Districts have begun to utilize them internally to address their own curriculum and professional development agendas as well as share the opportunity with other consortium districts. One district administrator said, “The BIM approach to science education is the best I have ever seen. Will it be implemented in my school’s science program? Absolutely.”

Kathleen M. Browne

Dr. Browne is Director of Rider University’s Science Education and Literacy Center and the CONNECT-ED Project Director.

K-12 Partners include: Cities of Burlington and Trenton Public Schools; Ewing, Hillsborough, Lawrence, Montgomery, South Brunswick, Warren, Washington Township Public School Districts; East Windsor, Hopewell Valley, Princeton, West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School Districts; and The Pennington and Newgrange Schools (independent). Business, higher education and supporting partners include: Bristol-Myers Squibb Company, Rider University Science Education and Literacy Center (SELECT), Princeton University Teacher Prep & QUEST Program, National Science Resources Center (NSRC); NJ Science To Go (a program of the NJ Center for Life Science); Raritan Valley Community College NJACE (Astronomy Center for Education) program, Mercer County ETTC (Educational Technology Training Center)

Andrea Valdovinos
Andrea Valdovinos

Curriculum Organization and Benchmarks

I have found Benchmarks for Science Literacy useful in my work as a science resource teacher, with the organization of the book particularly valuable in showing a progression of topic clusters from kindergarten to high school. This approach assists me in thinking about when ideas are developmentally accessible for students and if and when it is appropriate to include them when I try to help students build their understanding. When doing science curriculum work in my district, Benchmarks further enables me to look at the ideas that children need as background knowledge for a particular topic and how that topic develops as the children move forward in their scientific learning. This also increases my own understanding of scientific ideas and helps me to work with other teachers who want to increase their content knowledge.

Further assistance comes from studying another Project 2061 resource, the Atlas of Science Literacy, with its conceptual strand maps. Atlas maps make it easier for me to visualize the connections implied in Benchmarks and to appreciate a more interrelated picture of scientific content and how that content grows more sophisticated as children mature. This helps me to reflect on the best way to organize the content so that it will make sense for my students.

Basically, I have found that once you really start to think about developmentally appropriate content and skills, you cannot turn away from it in any part of your thinking.

Andrea Valdovinos

Andrea Valdovinos is a science educator from Jacksonville, Florida.

Ann Gaydosh and Travis Benner
Ann Gaydosh and Travis Benner

What to Expect Students to Know and Be Able To Do . . .

As a science teacher whose secondary students are considered “at risk,” I always try to relate course content to everyday life; yet, as new science vocabulary and details increase, my ability to help students apply knowledge to their own lives decreases. I learned about Project 2061 tools through an Iowa Math and Science Coalition workshop presented by Ted Willard, a research associate at Project 2061. One of the books used in that workshop—Science for All Americans—made me smile because here was a resource that supported my long-held belief that much of the information I had been struggling to pack into a school year was not necessary for my students to be science-literate young adults. With help from this and other Project 2061 publications, I immediately began to unburden my curriculum and to unburden my own guilt for discarding standardized chapter tests. Instead, I am now assessing how well my students actually understand key concepts and if they can apply what I teach.

My colleague Travis Benner, a Davenport elementary teacher, and I left the Project 2061 workshop with enthusiasm and the hope that we could share our new knowledge with other educators. So, when a district administrator asked us to present an Atlas workshop we were excited about the chance. Travis and I have since co-presented two workshops on “Using the Atlas of Science Literacy,” with the first presentation to middle and high school teachers from our Davenport Community Schools District in Iowa, whose attendees received a copy of the Atlas of Science Literacy to use in their classrooms. Additionally, all participants shared materials with departmental colleagues and prepared a lesson using the Atlas, which they presented at the final workshop session.

Participants at the second workshop included K-12 science teachers from regional school districts. At both workshops, the tone was set by referencing Science for All Americans and asking everyone to consider how science is discussed outside of the classroom with the people they contact every day. This is a real way to encourage educators to think about unburdening parts of their science curriculum and to study the Atlas strand maps and the related Benchmarks learning goals to identify the “core” ideas their students need to know and be able to do to become literate in science. Travis and I are looking forward to presenting a third workshop, which is being designed specifically for K-8 educators.

Ann Gaydosh and Travis Benner

Ann Gaydosh is a science teacher at the Kimberly Center for Alternative Education in Davenport, Iowa. Travis Benner is a 4th and 5th grade science teacher at Blue Grass Elementary School in Davenport, Iowa.

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