Science for All Americans
Education for a changing future
Project 2061 began its work in 1985—the year Halley's Comet passed near Earth. Children who were just starting school then will see the return of the Comet. What scientific and technological changes will they also see in their lifetime? How can today's education prepare them to make sense of how the world works; to think critically and independently; and to lead interesting, responsible, and productive lives in a culture increasingly shaped by science and technology?
With expert panels of scientists, mathematicians, and technologists, Project 2061 set out to identify what was most important for the next generation to know and be able to do in science, mathematics, and technology—what would make them science literate. The panels' recommendations were integrated into Project 2061's 1989 publication, Science for All Americans. Science for All Americans defines science literacy and lays out some principles for effective learning and teaching. In coherent prose, it articulates and connects fundamental ideas in science without technical vocabulary and dense detail.
What Is Science Literacy?
Project 2061 defines science literacy broadly, emphasizing the connections among ideas in the natural and social sciences, mathematics, and technology. Science for All Americans includes specific recommendations for learning in the following areas:
- The Nature of Science includes the scientific world view, scientific methods of inquiry, and the nature of the scientific enterprise.
- The Nature of Mathematics describes the creative processes involved in both theoretical and applied mathematics.
- The Nature of Technology examines how technology extends our abilities to change the world and the tradeoffs necessarily involved.
- The Physical Setting lays out basic ideas about the content and structure of the universe (on astronomical, terrestrial, and sub-microscopic levels) and the physical principles on which it seems to run.
- The Living Environment delineates basic facts and ideas about how living things function and how they interact with one another and their environment.
- The Human Organism discusses human biology as exemplary of biological systems.
- Human Society considers individual and group behavior, social organizations, and the process of social change.
- The Designed World reviews principles of how people shape and control the world through some key areas of technology.
- The Mathematical World gives basic mathematical ideas, especially those with practical application, that together play a key role in almost all human endeavors.
- Historical Perspectives illustrates the science enterprise with ten examples of exceptional significance in the development of science.
- Common Themes presents general concepts, such as systems and models, that cut across science, mathematics, and technology.
- Habits of Mind sketches the attitudes, skills, and ways of thinking that are essential to science literacy.
Science for All Americans also includes chapters on effective learning and teaching, reforming education, and next steps toward reform.
The Cornerstone of Reform
Science for All Americans presents a clear vision of science literacy that a variety of audiences can use for myriad purposes. Widely recognized as the first step toward ambitious national standards in science for all students and a major influence on science frameworks in many states, Science for All Americans serves as the foundation for current efforts to reform science education in the U.S. and abroad. Indeed, it has been translated into Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.
Science for All Americans provides educators, parents, school administrators, and policymakers with a sense of where the K-12 curriculum should be aiming. It can also help K-12 teachers—no matter what grade or subject they teach—to fill in gaps in their own knowledge of science, mathematics, and technology. In addition, the essays in Science for All Americans provide a coherent picture of science literacy that can help in interpreting the grade-specific learning goals in Project 2061's Benchmarks for Science Literacy, or in the National Research Council's National Science Education Standards.
Beyond the K-12 Classroom
Because many college students are not science literate, higher education faculty are developing courses around the topics in Science for All Americans. Project 2061's CD-ROM tool, Resources for Science Literacy: Professional Development, includes a variety of syllabi that address particular science literacy concepts. From Brown University to Iona College, courses in evolutionary biology, physics, technology and society, and computer music systems, provide a sampling of the wide range of approaches colleges are taking to science, mathematics, and technology education.
Many museums are also beginning to consider science literacy goals as they work to support reform in the schools. Boston's Museum of Science used Project 2061's principles for effective learning and teaching to design a series of interactive exhibits. The Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is redesigning its exhibits based on Science for All Americans' description of systems. And exhibits at Science Alive!—an interactive science center in Grand Rapids, Michigan—focus on four chapters in Science for All Americans.
However it is used, Science for All Americans presents a unified vision of science literacy that serves as a basis for discussions of the skills and knowledge that our nation's students should have.