A recent report from the National Research Council proposes a new framework for K-12 science education that emphasizes deeper understanding of key topics. The report suggests that science education be built in three dimensions: core ideas, cross-cutting concepts relevant across multiple disciplines, and key practices. Instead of trying to cover a huge range of topics, science teachers should focus on deepening knowledge of a limited number of core ideas in four disciplines, the report says: (1) life sciences; (2) physical sciences; (3) earth and space sciences; and (4) engineering, technology, and application of science. In the earth and space sciences discipline, for example, students would be required to focus on the core ideas of “Earth’s place in the universe,” “Earth’s systems,” and “Earth and human activity.” To maintain consistency throughout multiple years of schooling, the report recommends that teachers adopt a common language for “cross-cutting concepts” that are relevant in multiple fields, such as “cause and effect” and “structure and function.” The report also identifies eight key scientific and engineering practices that should be integrated into science education, including “developing and using models” and “analyzing and interpreting data.” The framework is the first step toward developing new K-12 science education standards; the nonprofit organization Achieve Inc. will lead a group of states to create more specific standards based on the ideas it proposes.


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Jeff Festa