Teaching K-12 Science and Engineering During a Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in widespread and ongoing changes to how the K–12 education system functions, including disruptions to science teaching and learning environments. This guide describes what high-quality science and engineering education can look like during this time of great uncertainty. It includes guidance—with an emphasis on the needs of district science supervisors, curriculum leads, and instructional coaches—about how K–12 science and engineering learning experiences can

  • function during disruptions to education systems;
  • adapt as needed to support students and their families dealing with ongoing changes to instructional and home environments; and
  • remain at high quality or even increase in quality, even if time for instruction is reduced this year.

The guide is based on reports from the Board on Science Education at the National Academies that focus on teaching science and engineering in grades K-12. It also incorporates input and examples from educators from educators across the country.

Content of the Guide

The guide identifies 4 principles to guide the decisions about how to adapt science instruction

Principle 1: Maintain a focus on the Framework’s vision for high quality science and engineering education. This includes:

  • 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.

Principle 2: Prioritize relationships, equity and the most vulnerable students.

Principle 3: Families and communities are critical assets for science and engineering learning

Principle 4: Adjusting to changing learning environments and recovering from disrupted learning as an ongoing process that takes time.

Equity and the health, well-being, and connections among students, families, and teachers need to be given high priority. Although these issues are not specific to science and engineering, they have deep implications for science and engineering education.

  • How are relationships among educators, students, families and communities being built, maintained, and strengthened?
  • How are students’ individual needs being met?
  • How are teachers’ individual needs being met?
  • How are inequities related to students’ access to broadband, devices, and instructional supports being recognized and addressed?

In order to maintain the health of students, teachers, and their communities, school districts are implementing measures that dramatically change the learning environment. This includes a wide variety of combinations of remote and virtual environments with classroom-based learning, including going completely virtual. Whatever the model, creating high quality science learning experiences for students is paramount.

  • How are the assets of each learning environment being leveraged?
  • How are instructional norms and expectations being established?
  • How can remote instruction support student sense-making and problem solving?
  • How can educators support student collaboration and discussion in remote environments?
  • How is student agency being fostered?
  • How can investigations and design be done in remote environments?
  • How can technological tools be incorporated effectively?

Teaching and learning during a pandemic very likely comes with challenges related to instructional time and the use of remote and virtual learning. It is important to ensure that the modifications are guided by a focus on what makes a learning experience effective rather than on simply “covering content”. High expectations for all students need to be maintained, supporting high-quality educational experiences that empower students.

  • How can instructional time be used most effectively?
    • How can instruction be organized to focus on the most conceptually meaningful student work?
    • How can students build toward more than one science or engineering learning goal at one time?
    • How can learning be coordinated within and between grade levels?
    • How can phenomena or solutions to problems be investigated in students’ homes or communities?
    • How can students build toward more than one academic discipline at one time in elementary school?
  • Who is involved in planning for and supporting curriculum modifications?

Assessment is a critical aspect of education, even as the context of instruction is changing. In this time of transition and blended learning environments, assessment used for the purpose of accountability is likely to be less useful and less equitable. Classroom-based assessment, however, remains important.

  • How should any unfinished learning from spring 2020 be addressed?
  • How can remote and online classroom assessment be adjusted to support student learning?
  • How can students be supported to give and receive constructive feedback from both their peers and their teachers?
  • How can education systems establish and maintain communication and feedback routines?

Educators at all levels of the K-12 school system are working hard to address the current challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to keep students and staff safe while also supporting student learning. They do not need to work alone. Collaboration and partnerships of all kinds can help them in their efforts.

  • What support is most useful for teacher’s learning that furthers their professional practice?
  • How are supportive networks being leveraged?
  • How are informal learning environments and community partnerships being incorporated?

*Chapter links coming soon.