Designs for Science Literacy

Many educators are now familiar with Project 2061's publications Science for All Americans and Benchmarks for Science Literacy. Science for All Americans describes the knowledge and skills in science, mathematics, and technology that are central to science literacy. Benchmarks provides specific learning goals leading toward science literacy for students at specific grade levels. Both documents have provoked important discussions, nationally and locally, about what students should learn. But the documents do not suggest how to reconfigure the entire K-12 curriculum to meet science literacy goals.

Reforming the curriculum so that students achieve science literacy is a major undertaking—one worthy of thoughtful design rather than hasty fixes. To guide educators in these efforts, Project 2061 has developed Designs for Science Literacy, a new print and CD-ROM tool. Designs deals explicitly with strategies and techniques for aligning the entire K-12 curriculum to specific learning goals such as Project 2061's benchmarks, national standards in science and mathematics, or state and local frameworks. In doing so, it addresses many of the considerations and constraints that attend curriculum design.

Designs begins with a discussion of general design principles and how they might relate to the curriculum. It then suggests ways to apply these principles to the task of curriculum reform, with a focus on short-term improvements while working toward broader and more lasting change.

Building National Goals into Local Curriculum

Curriculum change in schools is most often piecemeal, done separately for different subjects and different grade ranges. How might a school district go about designing a curriculum—the entire scope and sequence of subjects and courses across all grades from kindergarten through high school? Designs is intended to serve the diverse players involved in this task by:

  • Offering a conceptual framework—and a computer tool—that educators can use to apply general design principles to their work on the curriculum.
  • Encouraging school systems to adopt a curriculum design process that centers on learning goals; engages as many stakeholders as possible; takes a systematic approach; and evaluates risks, benefits, and tradeoffs.
  • Helping curriculum designers to consider the science, mathematics, and technology components of the curriculum together and within the context of the K-12 curriculum.
  • Envisioning how a curriculum might be assembled from a pool of high-quality instructional blocks of various sizes from week-long units to year-long courses.
  • Providing teacher educators with a resource for teaching the principles of curriculum analysis and design as an essential part of pre-service training.
  • Enabling school districts to begin making changes in today's curriculum that will provide a foundation for the curriculum of tomorrow. For example, Designs discusses how to build local professional capacity, ways to reduce the core content of the overstuffed curriculum, and ways to enhance connections across subjects and grades.

In all cases, Designs encourages a deliberative, goals-based approach to curriculum reform. While upholding ambitious learning goals nationwide, Designs aims to encourage diverse curricula suited to the needs of individual schools, communities, and students.

Designs is available in print form with a complementary CD-ROM. The CD-ROM allows users to learn more about the concepts in the book, relate them to their own curriculum, chart alternative K-12 designs, and make changes to the curriculum design while keeping track of which learning goals it serves. Based on feedback from educators, Project 2061 also intends to create an integrated print/disk version of Designs. This will include a substantial database of curriculum blocks that educators can assemble into a variety of curricula that serve science literacy goals.

Excerpts from Chapter 7: Unburdening the Curriculum

Among the many recommendations for improving the coherence and effectiveness of the K-12 curriculum, Designs for Science Literacy provides some strategies for "reallocating time—time to focus on understanding important facts, principles, and applications in science, mathematics, and technology."

Order on-line through Oxford University Press.