Exploring the Use of Project 2061 Tools, 1:
To Understand the Nature of Benchmarks

Introduction

Workshop options in this section engage participants in deliberate, rigorous study of science literacy. Each option involves study of a benchmark (learning goal) and parts of Science for All Americans (SFAA) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy (Benchmarks) that are relevant to that benchmark. Each of the five options requires about 90 minutes.
 

Option A: Case Study of Water-Cycle Benchmark

Option B: Case Study of Flow-of-Matter Benchmark

Option C: Case Study of Cost/Benefit Benchmark

Option D: Case Study of Modeling Benchmark

Option E: Case Study of Discrepant-Results Benchmark

To help students reach any benchmark, teachers and materials developers must thoroughly understand what it is expecting students to know or be able to do. The need for thorough study has become apparent as workshop presenters have seen how benchmarks are often misinterpreted. Some educators, for example, read extra meanings into benchmarks. Consider the K-2 benchmark #3 from Section 4B The Earth:

Water left in an open container disappears, but water in a closed container does not disappear.

Some educators conclude that this benchmark calls for them to teach the concept of evaporation, including the term, at this early level. If they have been using curriculum materials that promote the teaching of evaporation in grades K-2, they may be even more inclined to interpret the benchmark as recommending such teaching. In fact, the benchmark says nothing about evaporation; it describes a phenomenon, which is all that some benchmarks do. Only when educators consider other relevant parts in Benchmarks do they learn that evaporation is difficult even for upper elementary students to understand and should be reserved for later instruction. Comments of workshop participants before and after in-depth study of this benchmark illustrate the change in understanding that results from this study process (see Understanding the Nature of a Benchmark in Chapter 5: Selected Readings).