As students start school in fall 2020, it is likely that their learning experiences will be very different from what they have ever been and that they may even look different from one month to the next. However, the principles of high-quality science and engineering education remain the same. The 2012 report, Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas1 (hereafter referred to as the Framework) describes these principles of teaching and learning science and engineering based on evidence from decades of research about how people learn;2 it is a foundational document for the science standards in 44 states as of August 2020, as well as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).3
While making their adjustments to instructional plans, science and engineering education practitioners at all levels of the education system can use the four guiding principles listed below to ensure that teaching and learning is effective and stays true to the vision of the Framework, implementing the findings from education research. These principles outline the key ideas from the science education research to focus on during the current crisis. This research has been brought together in previous reports from the Board on Science Education, and the principles are derived from the conclusions and recommendations in those reports. They provide a lens for setting priorities and adjusting curriculum and instruction. This chapter describes these principles, and the rest of the guide applies them to provide guidance about science and engineering education in the time of a crisis.
1 For more information, see A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. Available: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-education-practices-crosscutting-concepts.
2 For more information, see How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Available: https://www.nap.edu/search/?term=How+People+Learn%3A+Brain%2C+Mind%2C+Experience%2C+and+School%3A+Expanded+Edition.+.
- Maintain a focus on the Framework’s vision for high-quality science and engineering education:
1a. Learning science and engineering is essential for all students at all grade levels,
1b. Instruction focuses on student engagement with real-world phenomena and problems, and
1c. The three dimensions (practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas) need to be integrated during learning and instruction.
- Prioritize relationships, equity, and the most vulnerable students.
- Recognize families and communities as critical assets for science and engineering learning.
- Approach recovery from disrupted learning and adjustment to changing learning environments as ongoing processes that take time.
Principle 1: Maintain a focus on the Framework’s vision for high-quality science and engineering education.
“Arguably, the most pressing challenge facing U.S. education is to provide all students with a fair opportunity to learn” (Framework, p. 281)
The Framework is grounded in the idea that all students can and should learn complex science and engineering ideas and skills. However, inequities currently exist in students’ educational opportunities.4 The pandemic is not causing these inequities, but it is amplifying them.5 Providing opportunities for all students to access high-quality science and engineering education—including throughout elementary school—is an equity issue and needs to be a priority for education systems.
High-quality science and engineering learning cannot be restricted only to secondary school students or to students who have access to high speed broadband, to their own computing device, or to teachers who have ample training on special online teaching tools. It cannot be limited to students who read and do mathematics at grade level and speak English as their home language. With careful alignment of goals and plans to address equity and inclusion between the various levels of the education system (i.e., federal, state, district, and classroom), the quality of educational opportunities can increase for all students.6
“The research is clear that usable knowledge—that is, learning that can be transferred to new situations—only occurs when individuals are actively making sense of the world” (Science and Engineering for Grades 6–12: Investigation and Design at the Center, p. 57)
One of the recent innovations in science and engineering education is the central focus on having students figure out puzzling phenomena and solving real-world problems. This idea builds on decades of research on how people learn and shifts the focus from “learning about” a science topic or the engineering design process to “figuring out” how to explain a phenomenon they see or solving a problem. With this focus, students learn ideas and skills because they realize they are missing some knowledge or skill that would allow them to answer their own questions—to satisfy their curiosity.7
Students’ engagement in their own learning is a strong predictor of their achievement, and teachers often report that it is a challenge to engage students in learning when they are not face-to-face in a classroom. However, by centering students’ experience on figuring something out that they are genuinely curious about, science and engineering learning can become the most engaging part of a student’s day, even in remote learning environments. A phenomenon- and problem-centered focus provides opportunities to connect learning more closely to students’ own lives and therefore to make it more relevant to them when they are at home.8
If students explore a phenomenon or problem that they see in their own home, neighborhood, or community, they can more easily apply the learning in other aspects of their lives.
The Framework introduced a vision of “three-dimensional” learning to the education community. This kind of learning means that students are not just memorizing facts or separately learning laboratory techniques; instead, students are engaged in building toward three dimensions simultaneously: disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts.9 Students build and use these three dimensions as a way to explain a phenomenon or solve a problem,10 and they are integrated into student performance expectations in the NGSS and other Framework-based state standards.
One response to a reduction of class time for science instruction is to focus solely on what is deemed “content,” such as the disciplinary core ideas, and to omit students’ learning about the practices of science and engineering, such as planning investigations and analyzing data. Another response is to focus solely on investigation skills—having students ask questions, make observations, and argue from evidence—but without connections to deep disciplinary content. However, all three dimensions are critical parts of students’ education, and any part alone is not sufficient. All students need rich and ongoing opportunities to build and use these three dimensions together over time. The nature of these deep three-dimensional learning experiences can be prioritized over “coverage” of content (see Chapter 5).
“Providing equal resources to students and to schools that started out at a disadvantage could not result in equitable outcomes. Equitable outcomes require attention to how people think about student access, inclusion, engagement, motivation, interest, and identity, and about the actions and
investments required to achieve such outcomes” (Science and Engineering for Grades 6–12: Investigation and Design at the Center, p. 13)
In different school, district, and state contexts, educators and communities can work together during the pandemic to adjust instruction according to local needs. As decisions are made about these adjustments, it is important to focus on supporting underserved and marginalized students and their families. For example, specialized plans can be made to ensure that all students have appropriate and accessible technology, translations, instructional support, and physical and mental health care services to allow them to succeed in the current educational environment. Communications to and relationship building with families can prioritize the families of students with the greatest needs to ensure their needs are addressed.11 This is fundamentally different from making instructional plans and then modifying them for students who might not have accessible technology: instead, it centers the realities of underserved and marginalized students and begins the instructional planning process with their needs at the forefront.
Principle 3: Recognize families and communities as critical assets for science and engineering learning.
Schools are integral parts of communities, and those communities and the families in them provide a wealth of resources that can be accessed to strengthen students’ educational experiences. All students and their families have funds of knowledge that they carry with them and that frame their view of the world.12 This includes knowledge about daily routines, local neighbors, and surrounding environments. Connecting to and understanding these rich resources is an essential part of connecting to and engaging students.13
Students are most authentically engaged when they can make sense of the world around them and solve problems that are meaningful to them and to their communities. Instructional experiences that make use of this kind of place-based learning can help increase personal relevance to students as well as their retention of the content.14 It also helps promote social and cultural connectedness between
12 See Gonzales, N., Moll, L., and Amanti, C. (Eds.). (2005). Funds of Knowledge. Mahwah, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.
students, their communities, and each other. Educators and curriculum developers might not always be aware of what the most engaging ideas or problems could be for particular students or what kinds of family and cultural practices would help contextualize learning for students (see Chapter 3).
Families and others in the community are uniquely positioned to provide feedback on what is working during implementation, what is not working, what barriers exist, and what opportunities are available to support students (see Chapter 6). There is clear evidence that family involvement in education can significantly improve students’ academic performance, engagement, and emotional health. Students reap significant benefits when schools support families and caregivers, equipping them to be effective partners in their students’ education.15
Principle 4: Approach recovery from disrupted learning and adjustment to changing learning environments as ongoing processes that takes time.
Implementation of high-quality science and engineering education in a context of shifting learning environments and constant uncertainty is complex and stressful. The changes that need to be made due to the pandemic in the 2020–2021 school year and likely in subsequent years as well will involve many different stakeholders working together to adjust professional learning programs, instructional materials, technological infrastructures, and assessment systems. Many schools systems were already in the midst of changing science instruction to reflect the vision of the Framework, a long-term process even when environments are not shifting continually.16 It is important to focus on what can be done productively in the short term and to give everyone—students, teachers, administrators—time to adjust to the new contexts. As stated by the Guide to Implementing the NGSS (2015), “Appropriately sequencing and setting priorities for the many steps in implementation will be essential. For example, small changes in instruction to incorporate scientific and engineering practices are likely to be implemented more quickly than major redesign of an entire assessment system.”17 This is also true of a shift to remote, hybrid, blended, or asynchronous learning environments, and it will be true of a return to in-person learning when that occurs.
15 See Henderson, A.T., and Mapp, K.L. (2002). A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family and Community Connections on Student Achievement: Annual Synthesis. National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools. Austin, TX: Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL).
Making all of these shifts and helping students fully recover from the associated disruptions to their learning will likely take more than 1 year. Therefore, changes can be made with a focus on long-term goals. Now more than ever, teachers need support to move forward little by little after every change to the instructional context without the pressure to implement perfectly right away.18 Each large change, such as a switch from in-person classrooms to remote learning environments, and then from remote learning to hybrid environments, adds extra stress on both students and teachers and extra time to make adjustments to teaching and learning. After each change is announced, educators will need to build from their current practices, collaborate with their colleagues, and begin to incorporate necessary changes in a careful and prioritized way.
This also implies that students’ unfinished learning does not have to be addressed immediately. It is likely that some instructional time will have been lost due to disruptions to the school schedule in spring 2020. In addition, instruction may be disrupted this year for individual students or for whole classes or schools. However, a focus on remediation as the approach to addressing unfinished learning—either this year or in future years—is likely to exacerbate inequities. Instead, unfinished learning can be addressed by focusing instruction on grade level–appropriate19 content, along with careful and consistent monitoring of what each student needs to engage with that content.
As students engage in grade-level learning and discover that they need support to develop foundational content or skills necessary for further engagement, teachers can provide that support in an individualized, just-in-time manner (see Chapter 6). This approach can be especially effective after students and teachers have established relationships, trust, and understanding. Education experts recommend focusing on embedded classroom assessments throughout the school year rather than diagnostic assessments in the beginning of the year.20
18 For more information, see Guide to Implementing the Next Generation Science Standards. Available: https://www.nap.edu/read/18802/chapter/4#20; and Design, Selection, and Implementation of Instructional Materials for the Next Generation Science Standards: Proceedings of a Workshop. Available: https://www.nap.edu/read/25001/chapter/4#34.
19 In the Framework, discipline-specific concepts (e.g., related to life, Earth, or physical sciences) are divided by grade band (K–2, 3–5, 6–8, and 9–12). However, state standards, including the NGSS, often further subdivide them into expectations for a year or course or provide models for how districts can divide them into courses. Therefore, the term “grade-level appropriate” means student expectations that have been designated for use at a particular grade level.
20 See Council of Chief State School Officers, Restart & Recovery: Assessment Considerations for Fall 2020. Available: https://ccsso.org/sites/default/files/2020-07/Assessment%20Considerations%20for%20Fall%202020.pdf; also see Lake, R., and Olson, L. (2020). Learning as We Go: Principles for Effective Assessment During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Available: https://www.crpe.org/sites/default/files/final_diagnostics_brief_2020.pdf.