Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Establishing a Vision for Science Education

Does your district or school have a vision for science education? What do you want students to know and be able to do by the time they graduate? How do you want them to think about the world around them?

If you haven’t considered those questions at your school/district, I would encourage you to bring them up in your next department meeting or conversation with your administrator. I applaud the incredible, current efforts of districts around the state to improve their science programs, but what metric is being used to weigh your decisions against? If you’re looking at a new textbook, considering sending a teacher to a conference, or crafting common assessments at each grade level, it’s essential to ask whether or not those actions will best move you toward your vision.

The summary to the National Research Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education supplies a goal statement for science education that resonates with me: “by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science; possess sufficient knowledge of science and engineering to engage in public discussions on related issues; are careful consumers of scientific and technological information related to their everyday lives; are able to continue to learn about science outside school; and have the skills to enter careers of their choice, including (but not limited to) careers in science, engineering, and technology.” 

Building on this statement, I find it critical that these are goals for all students; I didn’t add those italics in the quote! I recently heard a teacher note that she didn’t have time her regular biology class for in-depth student investigations, though she did in an advanced class. How well does memorizing facts and getting through content line up with your vision? High school is the last arena for science learning for many students. It’s also the last place where they might come to see themselves as science people. Putting a student in a lower level high school class that focuses on content coverage over deep engagement tells him/her that they’re not really a science person, further confirming what they likely already feel. How do you address student mindset in your science program?

Appreciating the “beauty and wonder of science” also really appeals to me. That’s why I’m involved in science now. I’m curious about this amazing world around us. I can clearly remember the first time I looked through a powerful telescope. It happened to be pointed at Messiah 13, the Great Cluster in Hercules. It literally took my breath away. To date it’s one of the most awe-inspiring sites I’ve seen.

Image from 

Relevant across content areas, students must be “careful consumers” of information in this internet-infused world. So, they should also possess sufficient knowledge to “engage in public discussions” on science-related issues. I recently had a Facebook-based argument about a current science issue. People I knew from high school were citing blogs as their sources, while I cited reports from the National Academy of Sciences (yes, it’s ironic that you’re reading this in a blog post). Students need to be able to determine what information is valid and how to interpret and question data they’re provided.

Finally, I really wanted my students to have the skill and desire to “continue to learn about science outside school.” When their children one day ask them questions about science, I hope they can effectively investigate resources and phenomena together to find an answer. “Learning” shouldn’t end at the school doors.

Please, leave a comment about your vision for science education!  In my next blog post I’ll discuss ideas for processes to develop a vision and methods to create actual classroom-level change.


  1. Kevin--thanks for highlighting this important section of the Framework. Even schools and districts that can't get behind the NGSS for whatever reason can embrace this vision for science education.

  2. I couldn't agree with you more!! I teach a huge spectrum of freshmen - from those who can barely read to those who could write their own textbook. Every single one of them needs deep science experiences that ask them to think critically about evidence and make claims. Yes, they need the vocab. Sure they need a solid understanding of the basic concepts. And they need different amounts and types of supports but - "Putting a student in a lower level high school class that focuses on content coverage over deep engagement tells him/her that they’re not really a science person, further confirming what they likely already feel." Amen! The opposite sometimes happens as well - basic classes can become about measurement or practices without a focus on incorporating the other 2 strands of NGSS and leaving out solid content instruction. All kids need all three components, which is clearly addressed in the Framework. Thanks for sharing!!