Exploring the Use of Project 2061 Tools, 2:
To Analyze Curriculum Frameworks, Generic Plan

Estimated Time: 2.5 days.

List of Materials


This workshop option will require at least two days. At the end of the first day, ask participants to read Benchmarks for Science Literacy, Chapter 14: Issues and Language, which clarifies issues that arose during the development of Benchmarks. Take some time to discuss these issues.

Step 6 of the presentation calls for using an option from Exploring the Use of Project 2061 Tools, 1: Understanding the Nature of Benchmarks. Choose from the five case studies the one that best fits your workshop audience. Prepare the appropriate transparencies and handouts, and allow 90 minutes for completion of the benchmark study.

Steps 8 and 9 of the presentation call for participants to work with benchmark strands. If sufficient computers are available, this work should be done using Benchmarks on Disk (see Overview of Available Tools, Option F: Using Benchmarks on Disk). If computers are not available, see Overview of Available Tools, Option E: Identifying Benchmarks Strands, for alternative instructions. In either case, "About Strands" and "How to Design a K-12 Benchmarks Strand" in Chapter 5: Selected Readings will help you prepare.

The optional strand-making activity in step 9 helps participants recognize conceptual connections among ideas. To prepare for it, select a topic for which a strand map exists among the 30 available on Benchmarks on Disk or those in this Guide. (Costs and Benefits of Technology, Feedback and Control in Technological Systems, Physical and Conceptual Models and Their Uses, and Cells as Systems are appropriate selections available on transparencies and handouts in this Guide.) Prepare a transparency and handouts of the map you select.

You will also need to prepare a list of benchmarks on a handout for participants to use in constructing their own maps. (For an example, see HANDOUT: Benchmarks from 5E Flow of Matter and Energy.) Identify the Benchmarks sections (one or two) in which most of the benchmarks on the strand map are found and prepare a list that includes all benchmarks from this section (or sections). Also include some related benchmarks from other sections of the same chapter. Next, examine the Also See box in the main section or sections you are considering for cross-references to sections in other chapters that may contain related benchmarks. Choose some related benchmarks from these sections for the list as well.

On the list, be sure to show the grade level with the text of each benchmark. Finally, make a transparency and handout of the benchmark list.

Sample Presentation

1. Introducing the task. (5-10 minutes)

Presenter: The purpose of this activity is to demonstrate the use of Science for All Americans (SFAA) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy (Benchmarks) in deciding how well a district or state framework promotes science literacy. You are engaged in the important task of examining how well your [state/district] framework addresses science literacy. You are fortunate to have available the work already done by Project 2061, the National Research Council (NRC), the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), and the National Council of Social Studies (NCSS). Resources for Science Literacy: Professional Development contains comparisons of Benchmarks to each of these national standards documents. The analysis procedure used to compare Benchmarks and national standards can guide you in comparing your framework to these national documents. We will use sample results from these comparisons to identify issues that arise when frameworks are analyzed.  

2. Becoming familiar with the domains (subject areas) included in SFAA/Benchmarks and the framework to be analyzed. (30 minutes)

Presenter: What domains are included in the documents to be compared?

Participants should browse through the table of contents of the framework document and Benchmarks and list included domains. For SFAA/Benchmarks, the included domains are science (including both natural and social), mathematics, and technology.

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Overlap of Domains.

Presenter: This transparency shows the results of a comparison of the domains of Benchmarks and the National Science Education Standards.

Ask participants to consider advantages and disadvantages of the different choices of domains. (For example, a state or district framework addressing a more restricted domain might be more straightforward to develop but would likely omit conceptual connections to other domains.)

3. Identifying what subjects and aspects of the domains (e.g., earth science, nature of discovery, technological application) are included and how they are organized. (60 minutes)

Presenter: What subject areas of the domains are included? Are any other aspects discussed, such as the impact of the domain on culture or how knowledge is acquired in the domain? 

To find out, participants should examine chapter titles and section headings in SFAA and Benchmarks and comparable labels in the framework document to determine the coincident subjects—such as the life, earth, physical, and social sciences, the history of ideas, technological applications—and how they are organized. In SFAA/Benchmarks, they should see that in addition to the core body of knowledge for math, science, and technology, other aspects of the domains are discussed. These aspects include, in chapters 1, 2, and 3, the nature of the domains as human enterprises; how they differ and how they are alike; how knowledge is acquired through the use of hypotheses and theories and reliance on evidence. Point out that SFAA and Benchmarks also examine how the world and our understanding of it have been shaped by the scientific endeavor and advances in technology.

In addition, chapter 10 discusses the history of ideas—significant discoveries and changes that exemplify the evolution and impact of scientific knowledge; chapter 11 relates themes that cut across the domains and disciplines; and chapter 12 presents habits of mind—values, attitudes, and skills—that are important in science and in science education.

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Correspondence of Content Divisions.

Presenter: This figure shows results from the Benchmarks/NSES comparison of content. 

Ask participants to consider the advantages and disadvantages of including or excluding some of the aspects included in SFAA. (For example, some frameworks omit the history of science, but some ideas about how science works may be best learned through the history of science. Some frameworks are general and do not specify particular ideas that students should know about earth, life, or physical science.)

4. Becoming familiar with the grade levels addressed. (30 minutes)

Presenter: What grade levels are addressed in the documents to be compared?

To find out, participants should browse through a few pages of their framework document and Benchmarks. For Benchmarks, the grade levels addressed are K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Grade Levels.

Presenter: This transparency shows the grade levels used in Benchmarks and NSES.

Ask participants to consider advantages and disadvantages of the different grade level choices. (For example, a state or district framework that uses K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 as grade levels will be consistent with NSES and NCTM standards but might not provide adequate guidance for the design of curriculum and instruction for young children.) Refer participants to Benchmarks, Chapter 14, for discussion of issues related to grade-placement of learning goals that arose during the development of benchmarks.

5. Becoming familiar with the treatment (e.g., grain size, language) of a sampling of topics in each. (60-90 minutes)

Presenter: You may find that your [state or district] framework includes statements of similar specificity as benchmarks. Or you may find that your framework expresses learning goals in more general statements.  

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Nature of Science or TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Radioactive Isotopes.

Presenter: For example, Benchmarks and NSES express learning goals quite specifically. In this case one benchmark addresses the ideas in one NSES fundamental understanding. A comparison of benchmarks and standards can be found on Resources for Science Literacy.  

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NSES: Motion.

Presenter: Here is another example from the comparison. In this case, more than a single benchmark is needed to "cover" the content of a fundamental understanding in NSES. In the comparison, you will find a list of one or more relevant benchmarks after most standards. In a few cases, no benchmarks are listed because none matched the NSES statement.  

TRANSPARENCY: Comparison of Benchmarks and NCTM: Standard 3: Mathematics as Reasoning (K-4) or TRANSPARENCY: Standard 7: Computation and Estimation (5-8).

Point to the NCTM standard statement.

Presenter: This is a standard from the Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, the NCTM Standards. Below it are listed the more specific benchmarks that can be used to elaborate the more general statement in the NCTM Standards. You can find other examples in the comparison of NCTM Standards and Benchmarks that is found on the CD-ROM disk Resources for Science Literacy. (In addition to the comparisons between Benchmarks and the science and math standards, Resources for Science Literacy also contains a comparison of Benchmarks and the NCSS Curriculum Standards for Social Studies.)

Refer participants to Benchmarks, Chapter 14, for discussion of issues that arose during the development of benchmarks, such as the size of a benchmark, how specific it should be, and what language should be used to express it.

As part of that discussion, you might explain to participants that Project 2061 decided to express the learning goals in Benchmarks mostly in the form of knowledge statements, rather than as what students might do with that knowledge. It was left to the discretion of school districts and schools to specify how students might be asked to demonstrate that knowledge. For example, it is important to know that plants make and use food and that they need light and air to do so. There are, however, many different ways to demonstrate this knowledge. Frameworks differ in whether they require students to know or to demonstrate knowledge.

Presenter: Your task is to determine the relationship between the grain size, or specificity, of learning goals in your framework and benchmarks. To find out whether or not your framework contains statements of comparable grain size as benchmarks, choose 2-3 topics covered in both benchmarks and your framework and compare how these topics are treated.  

Divide the work among small groups. Give participants 30-60 minutes to carefully examine a few sections of their state framework and Benchmarks and draft a report that summarizes their findings. Their reports should include examples to illustrate the similarities or differences in grain size in the two documents.

After small groups have drafted their reports, have them share their reports with other groups.

6. Thoroughly understanding the nature of benchmarks. (90 minutes)

7. Analyzing the match between the framework statement and the content of the sample benchmark(s) i.e., the content match. (90-120 minutes)

TRANSPARENCY: Content Match Questions—Framework.

If the framework includes statements of comparable specificity, the following questions will be helpful in guiding the analysis:

TRANSPARENCY: Topic or Substance?

Presenter: This transparency shows two examples to clarify the difference between addressing the topic of the benchmark and addressing the substance of the benchmark. Consider this benchmark:

Some events in nature have a repeating pattern. The weather changes some from day to day, but things such as temperature and rain (or snow) tend to be high, low, or medium in the same months every year. The topic of the benchmark seems to be "weather." Activities that involve students in thinking about what the weather is like in other parts of the world or in gathering temperature data during a month seem to contribute to the learning goal. But if we read the benchmark carefully, we see that the benchmark is really about repeating patterns of weather. To address the substance of the benchmark, an activity would need to involve students in taking temperature or precipitation measurements over a year, comparing them with measurements students took in previous years, and looking for an overall pattern in the same months over several years. 

Presenter: Consider the second benchmark:

Clear communication is an essential part of doing science. It enables scientists to inform others about their work, expose their ideas to criticism by other scientists, and stay informed about scientific discoveries around the world. Presenter: What is the topic of this benchmark?   (Probable response: communication, communication in science).

Presenter: Activities that involve students in communication—working in groups and sharing information—would seem to contribute toward this learning goal. But is communication the substance of the benchmark?   (Take responses.)

Presenter: We can see that the benchmark is really about the essential role of communication in science. Students need to understand that communication is not an end in itself, but a crucial means to sharing information. To contribute to learning this benchmark, activities would have to be structured so that students reflect on the importance of communication, perhaps after having direct experience with needing to communicate. For example, a situation could be set up in which one group of students is responsible for making and recording measurements and another group depends on data from these students. After they finish the activity students could be asked to reflect: "Think back when the first group did their measurements this morning. What if they were wrong? What if they had not written them down correctly? What if they had not recorded the units and they could not remember what they were? What would the effect of that be?"

Return to the TRANSPARENCY: Content Match Questions—Framework. Distribute the HANDOUT: Content Match Questions—Framework to each participant.

Presenter: Your task is to relate benchmarks to learning goals in your framework. If your framework does include statements of comparable specificity, select a few statements for a detailed comparison analysis. If the framework does not include comparably specific statements, select a few of its more general statements and find relevant benchmarks.  

Divide the work among small groups. Give participants 60 minutes to carefully examine a few sections and draft a report that summarizes their findings. Their reports should address the following questions:

Have small groups present their findings, possibly in a poster session. After participants have had a chance to find out what each group has learned, convene the large group to discuss.

8. Comparing how the K-12 development of ideas is addressed in the two documents, Benchmarks and the framework. (1-2 hours)

Presenter: You will remember that Science for All Americans contains statements of what all science literate Americans should know upon graduation from high school. This knowledge is, of course, based on knowledge learned in earlier grades. Let’s look at how understanding of concepts progresses through the various grade levels to grade 12. We’ll start by reading what SFAA recommends high school graduates should know about the topic.

Have participants read the first three paragraphs of Flow of Matter and Energy in SFAA Chapter 5 and discuss them briefly. Remind them that the statements they read are not simply topic headings for what high school graduates should know; rather, they present the actual knowledge and skills that make up science literacy for this topic.

Presenter: We will now examine how this understanding can develop through grades 2, 5, 8, and 12.  

Show TRANSPARENCY: Needs of Cells Strand from Benchmarks 5C. Use a highlighter marker to show how one color can be used to highlight benchmarks and parts of benchmarks in the list that are related to the same concept. (The Needs of Cells strand is shown in bold on the transparency).

Presenter: We have identified a strand of statements related to the topic "needs of cells." Note that whole benchmarks or parts of benchmarks may be placed in the strand.

Now use another color to highlight on the list benchmark K-2, #1; 3-5, #2; and 3-5, #3. Explain that you are marking a second strand that might be called "use of tools in the study of cells," and that a Benchmarks section may contain several strands.

TRANSPARENCY: Benchmarks from 5E Flow of Matter and Energy.

Distribute colored highlighter markers and the HANDOUT: Benchmarks from 5E Flow of Matter and Energy. Ask participants, working alone or in pairs, to identify a strand for the topic Flow of Matter in Ecosystems on the list of benchmarks you have distributed.

When everyone has succeeded in identifying some benchmarks in this strand, have participants report their findings, sharing the reasoning they used. If time permits, ask participants to identify another strand in the section, such as Flow of Energy in Ecosystems.

Presenter: Why is it important for teachers of young children to know what the later benchmarks are for a topic? Why is it important for teachers of older students to know about benchmarks for the early years?  (Possible answers: In understanding a particular benchmark, familiarity with related benchmarks at earlier and later grade levels helps to clarify the meaning and the level of sophistication of the benchmark. Knowing benchmarks at earlier grade levels can help teachers pose questions to assess whether students know precursor ideas that they need in order to understand what is being taught.)

Have participants identify benchmarks strands for particular topics and attempt to do the same with framework statements. Then discuss.

Presenter: How does the grade-level placement of ideas compare in the two documents?

Allow time for discussion.

Presenter: Are the precursors in your framework adequate to guide the design of curriculum that develops students’ understanding over K-12?  

9. Comparing connections across chapters and sections in each of the two documents, Benchmarks and the framework. (1-2 hours)

Distribute the HANDOUT and display the TRANSPARENCY: Strand Map: Flow of Matter in Ecosystems.

Presenter: In this kind of map we see not only how early learning connects to later learning of a topic within a single section, as we saw earlier, but also how benchmarks in one section contribute to understanding benchmarks in another section.

Point out that the arrows show connections among ideas. Give participants time to study the map.

Ask participants to work in pairs to explain any one connection shown on the map to a partner, telling how understanding one benchmark helps someone understand another. Have several responses shared. Responses might include "benchmark A is needed to understand benchmark B" or "benchmark C is a less sophisticated version of benchmark D." Point out that in other strands one benchmark might be a specific instance of a generalization found in another benchmark.

Invite participants to examine the strand map to see whether there are connections suggested which they do not understand or with which they do not agree. Discuss these.

Ask participants whether they think other arrows should be added to the map.

Ask how a strand map is like a flowchart. Discuss responses.

Comment that the benchmarks from sections other than 5E that are found in this strand map (for example, 4D and 6C) were found by examining references in the Also See box and by browsing K-12 benchmark lists for other sections in the same chapter (for example, 5A). Point out that sections within the same chapter are not referenced in the Also See box.

Presenter: Now let’s work in small groups to develop a strand map on the topic of __________. This topic is addressed in Benchmarks section _____. While the materials are being distributed, please read the corresponding section in SFAA, on page ________, which depicts adult science literacy on the topic.  Distribute scissors, tape or paste, large chart paper, and the HANDOUT you have prepared (the list of related benchmarks from the same section, some benchmarks from other sections of the same chapter, and some related benchmarks from other chapters chosen from references in the Also See box for the original section).

Ask participants to work in small groups to construct a map showing (with arrows) which benchmarks relate to which others. Tell participants they may use entire benchmarks or parts of benchmarks and that in constructing their maps they will probably use only some of the benchmarks in the handout.

Circulate among participants as they develop their maps. After maps are completed, display them. Have participants look at other groups’ maps and ask questions about reasons for differences.

Show participants the TRANSPARENCY of the strand map for this topic that you have prepared from this Guide or from Benchmarks on Disk. Compare and discuss possible reasons for differences. Distribute the strand map HANDOUT, as well. Show participants exactly where in Benchmarks for Science Literacy you found the benchmarks for the benchmark list they used to prepare their strand maps.

10. Developing an action plan. (2 or more hours)

Give participants time to develop a plan for how they will proceed that addresses the following questions:

For an evaluation activity for this workshop, you may wish to adapt Evaluation, Option F: Poster Presentation—Lesson Design to allow participants to present what they have learned in their framework analysis.