Standards play an important role in determining what gets taught about climate, noted moderator James Geringer (Environmental Systems Research Institute). They provide the vision for teaching and learning and also define the categories that need to be covered and how they should be addressed through curriculum, instruction, and professional development. Brian Reiser (Northwestern University) and Stephen Pruitt (Achieve, Inc.) described the way climate change is addressed in the new A Framework for K-12 Science Education developed by the National Research Council (NRC) (National Research Council, 2011c) and the Next Generation Science Standards, which are currently being developed under the leadership of Achieve, Inc., and are based on the NRC framework. Gilda Wheeler (Office of the Superintendant of Public Instruction, State of Washington) provided a state perspective on standards, and Pruitt discussed some of the challenges that arise in addressing controversial science issues.
ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE IN THE NRC FRAMEWORK AND NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS
The newly released A Framework for K-12 Science Education, Reiser explained, is not a set of science education standards but, as its title suggests, a framework to provide a vision and guide for the design of standards. The framework builds on previous documents, such as the College Board’s Advanced Placement redesign, the American Association for the
Advancement of Science’s (AAAS’) Benchmarks for Science Literacy, and the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996), which have guided K-12 science education for 15 years. The first application of the new framework has been in the design of the Next Generation Science Standards, which are intended to replace current state standards over the next few years. The framework, however, could be used by any other entity that wished to develop science education standards.
A Framework for K-12 Science Education1 (National Research Council, 2011c) has three interacting dimensions: practices, crosscutting ideas, and core ideas, Reiser explained. Its structure is based on the idea that anything students learn in science is in some way a “melding of these three things.” The framework is “a step forward from prior standards,” Reiser added, because it reflects new understanding of how students learn and the challenges of using standards to guide instruction.
The framework suggests that new standards focus on “fewer, clearer, and higher” goals. New standards, Reiser noted, should be organized around “core ideas—not a million of them, not one per page, but a small number of core ideas per discipline.” But, he added, this is “easy to say and hard to do.” The committee that developed the new framework defined core ideas as those that
• have disciplinary significance, meaning that they are seen as key organizing concepts by scholars in the relevant fields;
• are generative, in the sense that they provide key tools for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems;
• are relevant to people’s lives, in that they relate to the interests and life experiences of students and are connected to societal or personal concerns; and
• are usable from kindergarten through grade 12, that is teachable and learnable across the grades at increasing degrees of depth and sophistication.
For example, in the life sciences one of the core ideas is “from molecules to organisms: structures and processes”; in the physical sciences, a core idea is matter and its interactions.
1For a report brief of A Framework for K-12 Science Education, see http://www7.national academies.org/bose/Frameworks_Report_Brief.pdf [June 2012].
The committee also identified seven crosscutting ideas, which are similar to those articulated in other standards:
• cause and effect: mechanism and explanation;
• scale, proportion, and quantity;
• systems and system models;
• energy and matter: flows, cycles, and conservation;
• structure and function; and
• stability and change.
Some of these ideas may go by different names in different contexts, Reiser stressed, but they apply across disciplines. For example, he explained, whether one is exploring phenomena in biology or earth and space sciences, a good strategy is to figure out where energy is going and how it is changing form: “Once you realize that you can’t create or destroy any of it for free, that is, a really powerful heuristic that you can use across all different kinds of scientific problems.” Several of these ideas are particularly valuable in explaining and reasoning about climate change, he added.
A second way the framework is important, Reiser explained, is in its commitment to the idea that learning develops over time. This is not a controversial idea, he noted, but “unfortunately this is not the way our science education system is broadly implemented.” In his view, current approaches typically take necessary prerequisites into account but do not focus on carefully building understanding over time. For students to learn complex explanatory ideas they must revisit core ideas in new contexts that force them to extend their understanding, and engage in tasks that force them to synthesize and apply ideas. Reiser pointed out that there is a deliberate commitment in the new framework to the articulation of “a story line about how ideas develop over time.” Figure 3-1 illustrates the progression of one of the core ideas, the structure of matter.
A third way the framework is important, in Reiser’s view, is in its recognition that teaching content is necessary but not sufficient. Prior standards have also focused on inquiry, he noted, but the new framework better articulates what it means and how to teach it. “We can’t teach scientific ideas without engaging students in practice that involves making sense of the ideas, applying them, extending them, explaining data—even using arguments from evidence to evaluate the consequences of different possible decisions,” he explained. Thus, the framework calls on standards developers to create performance expectations that integrate all of these elements. Standards based on this approach would not yield “chapter one on the scientific method,” he observed. “You can’t teach the scientific
FIGURE 3-1 Progression for core idea: Structure of matter.
SOURCE: Reiser (2011).
method in the absence of reasoning about some scientific problem.” Curricular materials developed in this way would not be purely expository narratives but would involve students in debating interpretations of data, making arguments to explain observed phenomena, and other scientific actions.
The scientific and engineering practices articulated in the framework are
• asking questions and defining problems;
• developing and using models;
• planning and carrying out investigations;
• analyzing and interpreting data;
• using mathematics and computational thinking;
• developing explanations and designing solutions;
• engaging in argument from evidence; and
• obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.
Reiser emphasized that these are not separate chapters, but a vocabulary that should be in play constantly in the science classroom.
The framework provides guidance for how to develop standards, with an emphasis on performance expectations. For example, one core idea at grade 8 concerns conservation of energy and energy transfer: energy is transferred out of hotter regions or objects and into colder ones by the processes of conduction, convection, and radiation (National Research Council, 2011c). An associated practice would be developing and using models, and a suitable performance expectation for that grade level would be that “students create, defend, and communicate a model of the flow of energy and matter that explains how wind can occur” (see Figure 3-2) (National Research Council, 2011c). Figures 3-3a and 3-3b illustrate student models of understanding of energy conversion. Reiser stressed that it is less important that students memorize the correct terminology for labeling the diagram than that they understand the basic processes.
He closed with the observation that the approach to science education in general, and climate change in particular, that is articulated in the framework aligns well with the proposition put forward by Daniel Edelson’s earlier presentation, that climate change should be treated as a topic within the larger context of earth systems science.
FIGURE 3-2 A performance expectation created from a core idea of A Framework for K-12 Science Education (PS3.B).
SOURCE: Reiser (2011).
FIGURE 3-3a Energy conversion and the practice of developing and using models. The student models show how energy is transferred from the sun to the surface, from the surface to the air by conduction (3-3a), and then how differences in temperature of the two regions can cause convection in the atmosphere, resulting in wind (3-3b).
SOURCE: Reiser (2011).
The Next Generation Science Standards2 will faithfully reflect the framework’s approach, Pruitt explained, and he provided an overview of the process to come. Although associated with the Common Core State Standards Initiative, the process of developing the Next Generation Science Standards differs in a few ways from the way standards were developed for reading and mathematics, he noted.3 States were not asked to commit to adopting them before the standards were developed, as they were with the reading and mathematics standards. The developers wanted to “begin with the science,” Pruitt explained, and collaborated with distinguished and internationally known scientists from relevant disciplines in defining the key knowledge, concepts, and skills in the NRC framework. This approach is expected to have the benefit of giving states that decide to adopt the standards a buffer if they face objections from some constituents over controversial issues.
The Möbius strip-like triangle that symbolizes the standards has three
sides to represent the core three primary elements of the framework that Reiser described: the core disciplinary areas, crosscutting concepts, and science and engineering practices. Three colors (orange, blue, and green) that represent these elements will be used throughout the document so that readers will be able to easily see how the elements are integrated. For Pruitt, the key improvement will be in the leanness of the document—it will not have long lists of facts and concepts for students to learn, memorize, and regurgitate when there is a test.
Pruitt acknowledged that a lot of work is needed to translate the framework into coherent standards that clearly identify student actions and that are easy for teachers and test developers to use. This phase of the process is being led by states, he explained, and several will be identified to lead the process and work intensively with the developers. The developers are a team of approximately 40, made up of K-12 educators, researchers, practicing scientists, and engineers; some members of the team have expertise in the education of students with disabilities and English language learners. There is also a much larger stakeholder committee (which includes approximately 700 individuals and organizations) that will provide feedback. The process will also entail two opportunities for public review as well as review by the science community. Members of the NRC framework committee will stay involved to help ensure that the standards are well aligned with the framework.
The team expects to have the standards ready by spring of 2013, and there is a plan to guide states in implementing the standards once they adopt them. A strategic advisory team will guide this process and assist states in engaging the business community and building coalitions in support of the standards.
A STATE PERSPECTIVE: WASHINGTON
“Climate change education isn’t really about saving the planet, it’s about saving humanity,” Wheeler observed. She has found this approach to be very valuable because it engages people in a way that traditional environmental education sometimes does not, even in a state that has emphasized teaching and learning about the environment for a long time. Washington is unusual in having had a requirement since the early 1990s, she explained, that instruction about “conservation, natural resources, and the environment shall be provided at all grade levels in an interdisciplinary manner” (WAC 392-410-115, 2009). Recently, Washington has begun to structure that education around the theme of sustainability, and it has identified three primary benefits: a healthy environment, a vibrant economy, and an equitable society. This framing has made it easier to
Standards for Environmental and Sustainability
Education, Washington State
Standard: Ecological, Social, and Environmental Systems
Students develop knowledge of the interconnections and interdependence of ecological, social, and economic systems. They demonstrate understanding of how the health of these systems determines the sustainability of natural and human communities at local, regional, national, and global levels.
Standard: The Natural and Built Environment
Students engage in inquiry and systems thinking and use information gained through learning experiences in, about, and for the environment to understand the structure, components, and processes of natural and human-built environments.
Standard: Sustainability and Civic Responsibility
Students develop and apply the knowledge, perspective, and vision, skills, and habits of mind necessary to make personal and collective decisions and take actions that promote sustainability.
SOURCE: Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Washington State (2009).
involve a range of disciplines and content areas, more teachers, and more diverse stakeholders in the process.
This focus on sustainability is now reflected in the state’s standards4 for K-12 education (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Washington State, 2009a). Three standards are meant to be integrated into both the science and the social studies curricula, which address (1) ecological, social, and economic systems; (2) the natural and built environment; and (3) sustainability and civic responsibility5 (see Box 3-1). Wheeler noted that there is actually only one place in the sustainability standards where climate change is explicitly mentioned: elaboration under Standard Two refers to “learning that is about the environment and environmental issues (e.g., loss of biodiversity, climate change, and water quality)” (Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Washington State, 2009b). The state’s science standards are similar to the plan for the Next Generation Science Standards in being structured around crosscutting concepts; in Washington’s case, the concepts are systems, application,
4See http://www.k12.wa.us/Science/pubdocs/WAScienceStandards.PDF [January 2012].
5See http://www.k12.wa.us/EnvironmentSustainability/pubdocs/ESEStandards.PDF [January 2012].
and inquiry. Climate change is mentioned as an example in several places under systems and application, rather than treated as a unit.
The same is true for the social studies standards, in which climate change appears more frequently, Wheeler noted. For example, the standards for geography address “the United States’ ability to meet the challenge of global climate change,” the history standards include “ways to address global climate change that promote environmental sustainability and economic growth in the developing world,” and a standard for skills suggests “small-group dialogue where each student presents two or more possible resolutions to the threat of climate change.”
Washington has also defined a “specialty endorsement” for teachers who develop expertise in environmental and sustainability education. It covers core competencies in content knowledge, instructional methodology, and other professional competencies. Six teacher preparation programs in the state now allow teachers to earn this endorsement as part of a set of credentials. The state also offers a Career and Technical Education (CTE) course in sustainable design and technology and has developed an Environmental and Sustainability Literacy Plan,6 in compliance with a provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.7
Wheeler closed with some data she collected in an informal survey of 94 teachers, of whom 90 percent were in Washington State. The survey focused on elementary, middle school, and high school teachers and targeted science teachers; 77 percent of teachers surveyed reported that they teach about climate change. The majority do so in the context of a science class, but a few mentioned doing so in a social studies, multi-subject, or mathematics class. For 60 percent, climate change is a subject that comes up occasionally, Wheeler reported. For almost a quarter of the teachers, the subject was treated as a unit within a course, and for a very few it was the focus of a full course. A quarter of the teachers reported spending 3 to 5 days on the subject in the course of a year, and 17 percent reported spending 2 to 3 weeks.
The teachers reported that, for resources and materials, they relied most heavily on videos, scientific articles, government websites, and curricula developed by private-sector organizations. Fewer rely heavily on textbooks or reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Teachers cited as their greatest needs: instructional materials (78 percent), professional development (60 percent), links to content standards (56 percent), and support (political support, 41 percent; community/parent support, 40 percent; and administration support, 35 percent). The teach-
6See http://www.k12.wa.us/EnvironmentSustainability/pubdocs/WAESLPFinalJuly2011.pdf [January 2012].
ers’ comments reinforced their desire for greater support, Wheeler noted, and also highlighted ways that climate change can be addressed outside science and social studies classes. The comments also revealed that some of the teachers doubted the scientific consensus regarding the causes of global climate change.
In Wheeler’s view, Washington’s experience is an example of the importance of both national and state standards and policies. Although national policies provide both guidance and support, she concluded, states are critical for addressing what is needed in school districts and classrooms.
ADDRESSING CONTROVERSIAL SCIENCE ISSUES
“Whatever controversy occurs at the state level, most of the time it is actually an outcropping of what is happening in local communities,” noted Pruitt. Moreover, the story is often a bit more complicated than what is reported in the media. For example, if a state school chief agrees to remove the word “evolution” from a set of standards, it may be the end result of a struggle to prevent the state legislature from outlawing the teaching of evolution outright or to allow alternative explanations to be taught. Such concerns generally come from parents and local communities. Pruitt pointed out that, in Georgia, for example, there was considerable debate when the state increased the rigor of its mathematics standards. As pass rates on state tests declined precipitously and students’ grades fell, parents and others complained that the new standards were flawed.
Similar issues arose regarding the teaching of evolution in Georgia, he noted, but a strong constituency of community leaders, the business community, and the scientific community spoke out in support of the standards. The goal is for every science teacher in the state to be able to teach good science without fear of retribution, but he suggested, “that is not going to happen until we educate the full community.” This is tricky, he added, because it is easy for policy makers and others to “come off sounding like zealots,” and turn off the very people they are trying to reach.
The development process for the Next Generation Science Standards has been allotted 18 months, Pruitt added, because it is important to leave time to build understanding of what is in them and their importance. The key will be at the community level, he added, and he urged workshop participants to watch for opportunities to offer education at the local level.
Several aspects of standards and public education came up in discussion. Moderator Geringer stressed the importance of considering carefully the best ways to communicate to a broad audience. He cautioned against comparing climate change issues to other controversial science issues, noting for example that “if you mention that this is like evolution, immediately you have lost a lot of people.” Terms make a difference too—“global warming” has already taken on a connotation for many people that limits its usefulness, and “anthropogenic,” a word used in many reports about climate change “doesn’t communicate in language people understand.”
“You have to lay out a way forward,” he added. If someone simply advocates that people stop using fossil fuels and ignore the potential impact on communities whose livelihood could be threatened, he explained, he or she “won’t be communicating very well.” Students and teachers need to be encouraged to think through possible solutions, he added.
A participant noted that it is common for people who are troubled by some aspects of a standards document to focus on the parts they are comfortable with and ignore others. In response, Pruitt suggested that the more such documents “tell a story” or offer an integrated narrative, the more difficult it will be to ignore parts of them. The states selected to lead the development of the Next Generation Science Standards, he added, have signed on to seriously consider adopting them, without the option of adopting only parts of them. Moreover, the standards are being designed to actually be adopted, rather than as a model for states to use in developing their own, as previous national standards were. “We are going to gift wrap a set of standards in a very rough economic time that states typically don’t have a lot of money to do their own,” he added.
BREAKOUT GROUP DISCUSSIONS
Participants were provided the opportunity to break into small groups to continue the discussion. Workshop participants had a choice of participating in breakout groups focused on one of two topics—the role of standards in climate change education or teacher preparation and understanding—based on their interest. Two groups of approximately 20-25 participants formed to discuss the topic of the role of standards. Each group was moderated by a steering committee member, and was also asked to identify a spokesperson to report back 1-3 main ideas during a plenary session at the end of the day. Four questions about the role of science education standards were presented as a starting point for the discussion:
1. What is the role of new science education standards and other frameworks (e.g., state environmental literacy plans or standards) in providing opportunities for or barriers to climate change education? How is the new framework similar to or different from current practices?
2. In addition to the areas identified in A Framework for K-12 Science Education, where should climate change education be covered in the curriculum?
3. In the translation of the framework to the standards, what are the opportunities to embed climate change literacy more broadly across disciplines?
4. What are the leverage points for incorporating climate change education into each level of education (elementary, middle, and secondary)?
The discussions were wide-ranging and provided opportunities for participants to exchange ideas and perspectives. A significant focus was the interdisciplinary nature of climate change. One representative from each group reported back, highlighting key points from their conversations, summarized below:
• There is a place for climate change education in most academic subjects. For example, mathematical modeling (mathematics); green technology (vocational education); communication and social discourse (reading, sciences, social studies); and visualization skills (arts) are all aspects of existing curricula that have a role in climate change education. There was some concern, however, that if treated only as a crosscutting concept and/or an important example of multiple scientific concepts, the topic of climate change itself could be lost. Making earth systems a core component of the curriculum, however, would result in the treatment of climate change as less voluntary. Some argued that if cross-disciplinary integration is to be truly meaningful, it will be necessary to reconsider the entire K-12 curriculum.
• Climate change instruction could be packaged as part of a curriculum on sustainability, which might both make it more personal for students and be easier to present in communities. It should be spiraled across the grades, with basics about data collection, graphing, and so forth starting in the early grades, while more complex social and political implications would be addressed at the higher grades.
• If climate change is to be taught effectively across disciplines, teachers in all subjects will need professional development to
boost their understanding and also to develop ways to integrate it into the curriculum. Standards and assessments will need to reflect this interdisciplinary goal, and new sorts of resources for teachers will be needed.
• It is not enough for a state to include climate change education in its academic goals. Not enough is known about how decisions are made at the district and classroom levels about what to include and how to present it.
• Standards provide a key support for teachers in dealing with controversial issues, such as climate change—for example, teachers can point to the standards when facing opposition by somebody who may not believe in climate change or may not agree with the subject matter that is being taught.