The core concepts used in this practice would be dramatically fewer in number than those currently focused on or included in standards and curriculum documents. This would allow teachers and teacher educators to focus on building and deepening their own knowledge of a smaller number of critical science concepts. At the same time, a grade-level teacher would need to be concerned not only with the relevant “slice” of a given core idea taught in her particular grade, but also with the longer continuum of learning that K-8 students experience. Thus, teachers and science teacher educators (at the district, school, and college levels) would need to build structures and social processes to support the exchange of knowledge and information related to core concepts across grade levels.
Because core ideas are bound up in the practices of science, teachers would also need a solid foundation in science and excellent classroom skills to guide and extend students’ experiences. Again, a network of science educators would need to work together to ensure that the complex instructional practices described here are supported with systematic, sustained professional learning throughout teachers’ careers. An excellent curriculum built on core ideas is but one of many major shifts required.
At the same time that science teachers are identifying and promoting long-term goals and connections related to core concepts, they must also define shorter term goals for students that involve more immediate understanding. At each grade level, teachers will need to aim for teaching specific intermediate ideas, with an eye to how these will connect with and inform the more sophisticated concepts that students are building toward understanding. For example, later in this chapter we describe a K-2 level intermediate understanding of atomic-molecular theory that does not employ the language of “atoms,” “molecules,” or “theory.” Instead, it builds essential conceptual bases for students to learn atomic-molecular theory in progressively more complex ways over the years.
Although most schools and school systems maintain control over the science curriculum, in the short term, individuals and small groups of science educators may find that they have opportunities to organize instruction in their own classrooms in a way that will build students’ understanding of core ideas across the year. Gradually, as this approach is implemented in schools and districts, science curricula can be organized around a limited number of key scientific concepts that are linked over successive grades.