Summer 2008 Issue

The Orbital classroom

National Science Education Standards

By Dr. H. Paul Shuch, N6TX


You may have read in recent issues of the AMSAT Journal about plans to develop an AMSAT Teacher’s Institute to provide educators with the background necessary to incorporate satellites into their curricula. This column summarizes the standards with which such an effort must comply.

The fundamental law governing education throughout the U.S. is No Child Left Behind (NCLB, which is pronounced “nickelbee” by educators). NCLB mandates achievement testing for all students in the areas of reading and mathematics, and ties federal funding for school districts not to test results per se, but rather to improvement in test results from year to year. In other words, the goal of NCLB is to show annual progress. Most school districts set achieving NCLB guidelines as their highest priority. At present, there are no accepted standardized achievement tests in the sciences, and hence no NCLB science standards. Most educators with whom I’ve spoken expect NCLB science standards to be established eventually, but this is not likely to happen for a decade or more. Hence, professional development in the sciences is not currently a priority for educators or school districts.

National Science Education Standards do exist, but compliance is strictly voluntary on the part of individual school districts. These standards were developed jointly by the National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA), American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), National Science Resources Center (NSRC), National Research Council (NRC) National Science Foundation (NSF), and several smaller organizations, working through the National Committee on Science Education Standards and Assessment (NCSESA). The standards emphasize benchmarks for science literacy and were distributed in draft form in 1994 to 18,000 individuals and 250 groups.

The goals for school science that underlie the National Science Education Standards are to educate students who are able to:

• experience the richness and excitement of knowing about and understanding the natural world;

• use appropriate scientific processes and principles in making personal decisions;

• engage intelligently in public discourse and debate about matters of scientific and technological concern; and

• increase their economic productivity through the use of the knowledge, understanding, and skills of the scientifically literate person in their careers.

Logically, any AMSAT educational endeavor should show compliance with these four points.

The National Science Education Standards address continuing education and professional development requirements for teachers. The standards address various professional development areas, which can be summarized as: learning science, learning to teach science, and learning to learn. Specific standards in these areas are excerpted below.

Standard A

Professional development for teachers of science requires learning essential science content through the perspectives and methods of inquiry. Science learning experiences for teachers must:

• Involve teachers in actively investigating phenomena that can be studied scientifically, interpreting results, and making sense of findings consistent with currently accepted scientific understanding.

• Address issues, events, problems, or topics significant in science and of interest to participants.

• Introduce teachers to scientific literature, media, and technological resources that expand their science knowledge and their ability to access further knowledge.
• Build on the teacher’s current science understanding, ability, and attitudes.

• Incorporate ongoing reflection on the process and outcomes of understanding science through inquiry.

• Encourage and support teachers in efforts to collaborate.

To meet the standards, all teachers of science must have a strong, broad base of scientific knowledge extensive enough for them to:

• Understand the nature of scientific inquiry, its central role in science, and how to use the skills and processes of scientific inquiry.

• Understand the fundamental facts and concepts in major science disciplines.

• Be able to make conceptual connections within and across science disciplines, as well as to mathematics, technology, and other school subjects.

• Use scientific understanding and ability when dealing with personal and societal issues.

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