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SPIE Professional October 2011

USA raises bar on science education

A report by the U.S. National Research Council says significant improvements are needed in how science is taught in the United States and proposes a new framework for K-12 science education that identifies key ideas and practices all students should learn by the end of high school.

The framework will serve as the foundation for new science education standards to replace those issued more than a decade ago.

The 18-member committee that wrote the report included SPIE Fellow John Mather (NASA) and SPIE member Rebecca Richards-Kortum (Rice University) and was chaired by Helen Quinn, professor emerita of physics at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in California. The new framework is designed to help students gradually deepen their knowledge of core ideas in four disciplinary areas over multiple years of school, rather than acquire shallow knowledge of many topics.

The report also strongly emphasizes the practices of science-helping students learn to plan and carry out investigations, for example, and to engage in argumentation from evidence.

The overarching goal of the framework, the committee said, is to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science, the capacity to discuss and think critically about science-related issues, and the skills to pursue careers in science or engineering-outcomes that existing educational approaches are ill-equipped to achieve.

"Science education in the U.S. lacks a common vision of what students should know and be able to do by the end of high school," Quinn said about the report released last summer. "Curricula too often emphasize breadth over depth, and students are rarely given the opportunity to experience how science is actually done."

In addition to serving as the foundation for the development of new standards, the framework can be used by others who work in K-12 science education, such as curriculum and assessment developers, those who train teachers and create professional development materials, and state and district science supervisors.

Raising the bar on science ed

Learning optics concepts

The framework specifies core ideas in four domains that all students should understand by the time they finish high school:

  • Life sciences
  • Physical sciences
  • Earth and space sciences
  • Engineering, technology and the applications of science

Students' knowledge in these four areas should deepen over time, and the framework specifies aspects of each area that students should know by the end of grades two, five, eight, and 12.

For example, electromagnetic radiation is one of the core ideas in the physical sciences area. By the end of grade two, the report says, students should understand through experiences with light sources, mirrors, and shadows that very hot objects give off light and that light travels from place to place.

By the end of grade five, students should understand that light traveling from the object to the eye determines what is seen and that the color people see depends on the color of the available light source.

By the end of grade eight, students should have learned about lenses, prisms, reflection, and that light can be modeled as a wave.

High school graduates should understand light frequencies, light speed, and modeling electromagnetic radiation as a photon particle.

The study was sponsored by Carnegie Corp. of New York.

The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter.

The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering.


29 to receive SPIE funds for outreach in optics

SPIE has awarded more than $90,000 this year to 29 organizations with optics- and photonics-related education outreach projects.

SPIE Education Outreach Grant awards are made twice yearly. The next deadline for grant applications is 31 January 2012.

Applications are judged on their potential to impact students and increase optics and photonics awareness.

For more information: spie.org/outreach.

Have a question or comment about this article? Write to us at spieprofessional@spie.org.


DOI: 10.1117/2.4201107.17

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