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16. Beyond Benchmarks

  1. Reform Tools
  2. Toward Science Literacy

A central premise of the Project 2061 strategy is that significant, lasting reform in education will happen only when people charged with operating the schools become part of the creative process. The simple implementation of reforms proposed by others will not work. To help states and school districts with this enormous responsibility, Project 2061 has begun an extended effort to perform some tasks that states or districts find difficult and to foster collaborative action with them. To this end, the Project will

Teacher participation in curriculum reform varies widely. In some schools and school districts, teachers expect to have a major part in actually designing whatever curriculum will be introduced; in other schools, they prefer to adopt a ready-made curriculum pretty much as it is, concentrating on implementation rather than design. Perhaps the teachers in most schools are somewhere in between. They like to start with a curriculum framework that is well worked out but incomplete, so that they can modify it to fit their circumstances and preferences. The Project 2061 response to this has been to start developing an array of tools that educators can use to design curricula and to guide reform.

SFAA and Benchmarks for Science Literacy will be joined by

Each of these is briefly described below. The figures on the following pages indicate the relationships among them.

Project 2061 is not in the business of producing a national curriculum. Rather, with the assistance of its school-district teams, it is developing a set of tools to help schools and districts assemble their own curricula.

SFAA, the first such tool, defines and recommends a coherent set of learning goals for high-school graduates. SFAA also lays out the principles of effective learning and teaching that underlie all of the curriculum design tools being developed by Project 2061. Since SFAA's publication in 1989, educators have been using these goals and principles to stimulate thought and discussion about classroom practices such as finding out what students already think about major topics; giving students enough evidence and time to change their incorrect ideas; increasing the use of team approaches that increase active participation by every student; shifting classwork toward ideas and thinking and away from vocabulary and predetermined answers; making sure that females, minorities, and the disabled are fully engaged in all class activities in science, mathematics, and technology; and expecting and rewarding clear, accurate reports, both written and oral, of student thinking and activity.

Benchmarks for Science Literacy elaborates the SFAA recommendations by suggesting the progress students should make along the way. By describing precursor understandings (at 2nd, 5th, and 8th grades) of 12th-grade understandings, Benchmarks can help educators decide what content to include (or exclude) in a core curriculum, what order to teach things in, and why. At the same time that others will be using Benchmarks to inform local curriculum design, Project 2061 will be using it as a guide in developing other resources.

To move from goals to the design or redesign of an entire K–12 curriculum requires more than adding or subtracting some instructional units here and there or changing materials, tests, and techniques. Piecemeal changes are unlikely to lead to significant and lasting curriculum reform. What is needed is a coordinated K–12 plan that guides the curriculum-building process.

Designs for Science Literacy will be a handbook for educators wishing to take a systematic, goal-oriented approach to curriculum design. It will include the following:

If lasting reform is to occur, changes are needed throughout the education system. Curriculum reform, however inspired, cannot do the job alone. Hence, Project 2061 has convened expert groups to prepare, in collaboration with the six Project 2061 teams, a dozen concept papers on aspects of the system that must change to accommodate the curriculum reforms being proposed by the Project. The findings of these papers, individually and in relation to one another, will be presented in Blueprints for Reform. The Blueprints topics follow:

Project 2061 curricula will need to draw upon a diverse array of learning resources—physical, print, video, audio, and computer. The traditional textbook will not do. A search is currently under way to identify learning materials with the greatest relevance for Project 2061. Excellent materials have been and continue to be developed by funded projects, science and technology museums, commercial organizations, and individual teachers. The best of these—including children's stories, novels, plays, poetry, reference works, and nonfiction trade books—will be entered into a computer database and cross-referenced to Benchmarks and one another. The computerized database will be updated as new contributions to science literacy become available. References to appropriate human and institutional resources will also be added as they are identified. Educators will be able to access the database for designing curriculum.

Introducing new learning materials into traditional subjects and courses can help transform the curriculum. However, as noted earlier in the description of Designs for Science Literacy, Project 2061 will make a more comprehensive approach possible. This alternative approach to K–12 curriculum design calls for educators to select and configure a set of curriculum blocks that meet Project 2061 standards (from a large pool of such curriculum blocks).

Curriculum blocks are coherent units of instruction that can be assembled to create K–12 curricula. The description of any completed curriculum block will include an overview of the main topics and experiences; a list of Benchmarks targeted in the block; suggestions for how to assess the learning; a fairly detailed description of the enabling activities and required resources; and the estimated time, space, and money required. A complete K–12 collection of blocks will advance all the learning goals in SFAA and their supporting Benchmarks.

Project 2061 cannot hope to produce the necessary pool of hundreds of diverse curriculum blocks needed for building alternative K–12 curricula. Rather, with the help of its school-district teams, it plans to provide some examples that will help curriculum developers all over the nation produce the kinds of curriculum blocks that are needed. As high-quality blocks appear, they will be added to the resource database.

In the process of developing these examples and trying them out in classrooms, Project 2061 hopes to learn how much and what kind of information must be included in block descriptions for them to be helpful to various potential users. Some users will likely take rough sketches of blocks and design their own materials to fit, other users will use sketches plus various existing materials to make testable blocks, and still others will select blocks tested by others.

Another new kind of Project 2061 resource for guiding curriculum design will be curriculum models. To illustrate that it is possible to design 13 years of schooling to achieve literacy in science, mathematics, and technology for all Americans, Project 2061 is working on some alternative curriculum models. Each model is a K–12 configuration of blocks that accounts for all of the Benchmarks. Descriptions of the models will be included in the resource database. Curriculum models are not "model curricula" in the sense often used in education and are not intended for exact replication. Their purpose is to suggest possibilities for planning curriculum and instruction and to show the degree to which models can vary and still provide a common core of instruction aimed at science literacy.

If Project 2061's vision of reform is realized, curriculum design in the future will be quite different from today. Schools will be able to plan K–12 curricula so that teaching and learning are coordinated over long spans of time and across subjects. Groups of teachers will, as indicated above, be able to draw from a much greater variety of resources. Project 2061's interactive, computer-based, multimedia Curriculum-Design & Resource System (CDR) will make these resources available to local curriculum designers, probably on CD-ROM and possibly online. It will provide a versatile, user-friendly system to access Project 2061 Benchmarks, Blueprints, and other Project 2061 tools and resources. Beyond its use in curriculum design, the system will be able to serve as a management tool for teachers. As students progress toward science literacy, teachers could use the CDR system to monitor their progress in terms of Benchmarks and to suggest learning experiences for new concepts.

What is the Project 2061 vision for schooling in the 21st century?

First, an identifiable common core of learning in science, mathematics, and technology will focus on science literacy as its main goal and be closely allied with a common core of learning in the arts and humanities. Instructional units will be justified by referring to grade-level learning goals derived from expectations for what adults should retain. A comparison of this new core curriculum with the traditional curriculum of today would show far fewer topics than before, so that students can concentrate on learning well a basic set of ideas and skills that will lead to science literacy—and optimally promote further learning. Equally important, the curriculum will provide ample opportunity for students to go beyond the core in response to their individual interests, talent, and plans for the future.

Second, all students in a Project 2061 school will have wide-ranging learning experiences. Instructional units will employ a variety of instructional methods and learning materials. Students will have many opportunities for hands-on activities and, equally important, for the reflective thinking that enables them to make sense of their experiences—including connecting ideas among science, mathematics, and technology, and between them and the arts and humanities. Students' activities and reflections will engage them in using their knowledge in ways characteristic of literate adults—to explain everyday phenomena, to solve practical problems, to inform decisions about issues, and thereby to learn more and have more personal satisfaction.

Third, teachers will have primary responsibility for planning and implementing curriculum within their individual systems. K–12 teams will have planned for K–12 continuity of experiences, and cross-discipline groups will have planned for how students will encounter connections within the curriculum. Designers will not have to develop a curriculum from scratch but will be able to select from a wide variety of instructional units that foster SFAA goals while matching the needs of the local community. Furthermore, the teams that formulated the curriculum will monitor and coordinate its operation.

Finally, the school environment will support the science literacy goals and the curriculum designed to achieve them. The scheduling of time and personnel will be suited to the demands of the learning experience. Schools will welcome information and participation from outsiders who can contribute to the specified learning goals. Students and teachers will be able to leave school grounds to participate in activities in the community or to learn science in the field rather than in the school. Resources will be readily available for teachers and administrators to learn about new research findings and their implications for practice and to engage in similar study themselves. And everyone, including parents, policy makers, and teachers will understand that reform is a continuing process requiring time and consistent effort.

Copyright © 1993,2009 by American Association for the Advancement of Science