Ideas in Benchmarks for Science Literacy
that support components of
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

Since 1985, Project 2061 has produced two well-thought-out reports on "science literacy" that include social as well as natural sciences and also mathematics and technology. Science for All Americans, published in 1989, describes goals for adult science literacy—concepts and information that all high school graduates should understand. Those recommendations were elaborated in Benchmarks for Science Literacy in 1993. The benchmarks specify learning goals for students as they progress through grade ranges K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12 toward adult literacy.

The inclusion of learning goals regarding social sciences does not imply that Project 2061 sees the social studies curriculum as its province. Both SFAA and Benchmarks are concerned chiefly with eventual outcomes and are pretty much silent on whether students would learn in science courses, social studies courses, or some brand of integrated schooling. Different states and districts will no doubt design a variety of curricula that are suitable to their own contexts.

The social studies community may, however, be interested in what recommendations Project 2061 has made regarding the social sciences and how those recommendations might be of help in fleshing out the NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies. Project 2061 staff have inspected the Curriculum Standards closely and indicated where SFAA and Benchmarks deal with similar goals for understanding.

The pleasant outcome of this comparison is that as much as 40% of Curriculum Standards has supporting material in Benchmarks. (SFAA and Benchmarks have the same chapter and topical structure.) Although the examples we will look at today all refer to grade-range statements in Benchmarks, please keep in mind that more coherent renditions of these ideas can be found in the corresponding sections of SFAA.

Because the more detailed standard statements called "performance expectations" under each NCSS standard do not have labels, short-phrase labels were invented for each of them for purposes of the comparison. These labels are based on the brief account of performance expectations given for three different grade levels in Curriculum Standards on pages 33 to 45. For example, considering the statements made for early, middle, and high school grades, performance expectation b for Standard I: Culture was labeled "different interpretations of experience."

For each of the performance expectations of each NCSS standard, the comparison lists some sections of Benchmarks in which relevant ideas can be found. (Benchmarks are likely to be found for every grade range, but no distinctions among grade ranges were made in this comparison.) Sometimes the relationships between benchmarks and standards are obvious. For example, some relevant ideas for Standard I: CULTURE will certainly be found in the Benchmarks Chapter 7: HUMAN SOCIETY. This chapter includes the sections Cultural Effects on Behavior, Group Behavior, Social Change, Social Trade-Offs, Political & Economic Systems, Social Conflict, and Global Interdependence.

More specifically, performance expectation b under this standard, labeled "different interpretations of experience," will surely relate to benchmarks in the section Cultural Effects on Behavior. Perhaps many of the benchmarks in this section would be considered relevant, but certainly this example is:

Sometimes relevant material can be found in Benchmarks in unexpected places. For example, ideas relevant to NCSS performance expectation I-b—"different interpretations of experience"—can also be found in Chapter 6: The Human Organism (in the section Learning) and even in Chapter 1: THE NATURE OF SCIENCE (in the section Scientific Inquiry) and Chapter 12: HABITS OF MIND (in the section on Critical-Response Skills). Here are some relevant benchmarks from those three sections: Section 6d: Learning (grades 3-5)
Learning means using what one already knows to make sense out of new experiences or information, not just storing the new information in one’s head.

Section 6d: Learning (grades 9-12)
The expectations, moods, and prior experiences of human beings can affect how they interpret new perceptions and ideas. People tend to ignore evidence that challenges their beliefs and to accept evidence that supports them. The context in which something is learned may limit the contexts in which the learning can be used.

Section 1b: Scientific Inquiry (grades 6-8)
What people expect to observe often affects what they actually do observe. Strong beliefs about what should happen in particular circumstances can prevent them from detecting other results. Scientists know about this danger to objectivity and take steps to try to avoid it when designing investigations and examining data. One safeguard is to have different investigators conduct independent studies of the same questions.

Section 12e: Critical-Response Skills (grades 6-8)
Be aware that there may be more than one reasonable way to interpret a given set of findings.

Section 12e: Critical-Response Skills (grades 9-12)
Suggest alternative ways of explaining data and criticize arguments in which data, explanations, or conclusions are represented as the only ones worth consideration, with no mention of other possibilities. Similarly, suggest alternative trade-offs in decisions and designs and criticize those in which major trade-offs are not acknowledged.

As would be expected because of the similarities in social and natural sciences, many related Standards ideas are found in the Benchmarks Chapter 1: THE NATURE OF SCIENCE, for example: Section 1a: The Scientific World View (grades 6-8)
Some matters cannot be examined usefully in a scientific way. Among them are matters that by their nature cannot be tested objectively and those that are essentially matters of morality. Science can sometimes be used to inform ethical decisions by identifying the likely consequences of particular actions but cannot be used to establish that some action is either moral or immoral.

Section 1c: The Scientific Enterprise (grades 9-12)
Scientists can bring information, insights, and analytical skills to bear on matters of public concern. Acting in their areas of expertise, scientists can help people understand the likely causes of events and estimate their possible effects. Outside their areas of expertise, however, scientists should enjoy no special credibility. And where their own personal, institutional, or community interests are at stake, scientists as a group can be expected to be no less biased than other groups are about their perceived interests.

Section 1c: The Scientific Enterprise (grades 6-8)
Until recently, women and racial minorities, because of restrictions on their education and employment opportunities, were essentially left out of much of the formal work of the science establishment; the remarkable few who overcame those obstacles were even then likely to have their work disregarded by the science establishment.

Many examples of learning goals common to natural and social sciences can also be found in Benchmarks Chapter 11: COMMON THEMES, including: Section 11d: Scale (grades 6-8)
As the complexity of any system increases, gaining an understanding of it depends increasingly on summaries, such as averages and ranges, and on descriptions of typical examples of that system.

Section 11c: Constancy and Change (grades 9-12)
In many physical, biological, and social systems, changes in one direction tend to produce opposing (but somewhat delayed) influences, leading to repetitive cycles of behavior.

Section 11b: Models (grades 9-12)
The usefulness of a model can be tested by comparing its predictions to actual observations in the real world. But a close match does not necessarily mean that the model is the only "true" model or the only one that would work.

Section 11a: Systems (grades 6-8)
Any system is usually related to other systems, both internally and externally. Thus a system may be thought of as containing subsystems and as being a subsystem of a larger system.

Benchmarks Chapter 12: HABITS OF MIND also includes many goals of equal interest in social and natural sciences, such as these: Section 12a: Values and Attitudes (grades 9-12)
Know why curiosity, honesty, openness, and skepticism are so highly regarded in science and how they are incorporated into the way science is carried out; exhibit those traits in their own lives and value them in others.

Section 12d: Communication Skills (grades 6-8)
Organize information in simple tables and graphs and identify relationships they reveal.

Section 12d: Communication Skills (grades 9-12)
Participate in group discussions on scientific topics by restating or summarizing accurately what others have said, asking for clarification or elaboration, and expressing alternative positions.

Section 12e: Critical-Response Skills (grades 6-8)
Compare consumer products and consider reasonable personal trade-offs among them on the basis of features, performance, durability, and cost.

Section 12e: Critical-Response Skills (grades 6-8)
Be skeptical of arguments based on very small samples of data, biased samples, or samples for which there were no control sample.

Still another place in Benchmarks to find specific learning goals relevant to the social sciences is Chapter 8: THE DESIGNED WORLD, which includes the sections Agriculture, Materials & Manufacturing, Energy Sources & Use, Communications, Information Processing, and Health Technology. Some examples from Agriculture: Section 7a: Agriculture (grades K-2)
For many things they need, people rely on others who are not part of the family and maybe not even part of their local community.

Section 7a: Agriculture(grades 3-5)
The damage to crops caused by rodents, weeds, and insects can be reduced by using poisons, but their use may harm other plants or animals as well, and pests tend to develop resistance to poisons.

Section 7a: Agriculture(grades 6-8)
Many people work to bring food, fiber, and fuel to U.S. markets. With improved technology, only a small fraction of workers in the U.S. actually plant and harvest the products that people use. Most workers are engaged in processing, packaging, transporting, and selling what is produced.

Section 7a: Agriculture(grades 9-12)
Government sometimes intervenes in matching agricultural supply to demand in an attempt to ensure a stable, high-quality, and inexpensive food supply. Regulations are often designed to protect farmers from abrupt changes in farming conditions and from competition by farmers in other countries.

Section 7a: Agriculture(grades 9-12)
Agricultural technology requires trade-offs between increased production and environmental harm and between efficient production and social values. In the past century, agricultural technology led to a huge shift of populations from farms to cities and a great change in how people live and work.

Aside from the benchmarks themselves, Benchmarks for Science Literacy (both book and disk versions) include summaries of the findings from educational research for topics in every section (when there is any), and discussion of issues in creating, expressing, and using specific learning goals. In the "Also See" box at the beginning of each section in Benchmarks there are suggestions of where related topics can be found in other chapters.

At present, the social science content of Benchmarks is not widely known in the social studies education community. As NCSS Curriculum Standards and other reforms are implemented in social studies, we hope social educators will look carefully at Benchmarks, especially in the light of renewed attention to integration with natural science and other subjects.

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