On December 2-3, 2014, the Space Studies Board and the Board on Science Education of the National Research Council (NRC) held a workshop on the NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) education program—“Sharing the Adventure with the Student.” The discussion of NASA SMD’s education efforts is particularly timely because of recent changes in K-12 science education policy and practices and a proposed reorganization of all of NASA SMD’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education efforts.
“Sharing the Adventure with the Student: Exploring the Intersections of NASA Space Science and Education—A Workshop” was organized by an ad hoc committee under the auspices of members from the Space Studies Board, serving as representatives of the space science community; the Board on Science Education, serving as representatives of experts in the creation and evaluation of STEM education efforts; as well as other experts. The workshop brought together these respective communities to promote a new dialog with the aim of increasing mutual understanding of how best to translate space science into useful educational materials and experiences.
This workshop summary has been prepared by the workshop rapporteur as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. The planning committee’s role was limited to planning and convening the workshop. The views contained in the report are those of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of the workshop participants as a whole, the planning committee, or the NRC.
This is the second in a series of workshops on NASA science communication and education. Previously, on November 8-10, 2010, the Space Studies Board held a public workshop, “Sharing the Adventure with the Public,”1 that brought together scientists and professional communicators to discuss how NASA and its associated science and exploration communities can be more effective in communicating with the public.2 The 2010 workshop participants discussed examples of where communication with the public has been challenging—such as for climate change—and where communication can be used more effectively to increase public support for space science. Science journalists offered tips for improving scientists’ communication—such as becoming more active on social media sites. The gathering together of these communities in itself helped to improve communication in science, with all groups leaving the workshop with a better understanding of each other.
1 National Research Council, Sharing the Adventure with the Public: The Value and Excitement of “Grand Questions” of Space Science and Exploration: Summary of a Workshop, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2011.
2 More information and video recordings of Sharing the Adventure with the Public: The Value and Excitement of “Grand Questions” of Space Science and Exploration are available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/SSB/CompletedProjects/SSB_065881.
THE BACKGROUND OF NASA EDUCATION EFFORTS
The National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, which created NASA, directed that the agency should pursue several goals. Among these are the following:
The expansion of human knowledge of Earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space; and
The preservation of the role of the United States as a leader in aeronautical and space science and technology and in the application thereof to the conduct of peaceful activities within and outside the atmosphere.
NASA has interpreted these goals to include support for the goals of American educational institutions at all levels. A 2008 NRC report, NASA’s Elementary and Secondary Education Program: Review and Critique,3 recommended the following:
NASA should continue to engage in education activities at the K-12 level, designing its K-12 education activities so that they capitalize on NASA’s primary strengths and resources, which are found in the mission directorates. These strengths and resources are the agency’s scientific discoveries; its technology and aeronautical developments; its space exploration activities; the scientists, engineers, and other technical staff (both internal and external) who carry out NASA’s work; and the unique excitement generated by space flight and space exploration (p. 6).
The report also noted that among the large number of agency staff who focus on science, engineering, and technology, only limited numbers have primary expertise in education that allows them to develop effective education products on their own.
The workshop summarized here was prompted by a number of changes both in NASA policy and in how the United States as a whole is changing the teaching of science in kindergarten through grade 12. The larger context of the workshop involves several significant events. These are the 2012 NRC report A Framework for K-12 Science Education4 (generally referred to as “the Framework”), a set of K-12 science standards based upon the Framework known as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the November 2014 release by NASA SMD of a Cooperative Agreement Notice (CAN) soliciting proposals that address NASA SMD’s science education requirements.5
A Framework for K-12 Science Education
A Framework for K-12 Science Education (i.e., “the Framework”), released by the NRC in 2011, consists of the most up-to-date information on how students in grades K-12 should learn science (see Figure I.1). The development process of the Framework study consisted of a committee that included science education policy experts and researchers. Design teams in the following disciplines were utilized in the development process as well: engineering, Earth and space science, life science, and physical science. The Framework includes research on how students acquire knowledge of science in an effective manner, and it served as the basis for the NGSS, which were developed to provide an international benchmark for science education.6
3 National Research Council, NASA’s Elementary and Secondary Education Program: Review and Critique, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2008.
4 National Research Council, A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2012.
6 Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), “Framework for K-12 Science Education,” http://www.nextgenscience.org/framework-k-12-science-education, accessed January 15, 2015.
FIGURE I.1 Framework for K-12 Science Education produced by the National Research Council. SOURCE: National Research Council, A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2012, p. 3.
NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS
The NGSS were produced due to the time gap in the development of guiding documents for state science education standards and the need to build interest among K-12 students in STEM disciplines. The standards are meant to better prepare high school students for college and the workforce with the objective of providing employers with the ability to hire individuals with strong science, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.
Each NGSS consists of the following three dimensions: core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. Core ideas are meant to focus science curriculum and instruction on the most significant aspects of the discipline. Practices are applicable to both scientists and engineers; they describe the behavior of scientists as they build theories pertaining to the natural world and the practices of engineers as they build systems. Crosscutting concepts link different science domains, and examples include cause and effect, as well as energy and matter.9 The focus of the standards is a progression of knowledge from grade to grade starting in kindergarten all the way through 12th grade. The standards emphasize engineering and technology, and they coordinate with the Common Core State Standards in mathematics as well as English language arts. The NGSS were released in April 2013 for adoption by states and continue to be implemented today.10
NASA’s Cooperative Agreement Notice
NASA SMD’s draft Science Education CAN issued in November 2014 sought comments from members of formal and informal education, and science research communities.11 According to SMD, the directorate’s vision for education is as follows:
To share the story, the science, and the adventure of NASA’s scientific explorations of our home planet, the solar system, and the universe beyond, through stimulating and informative activities and experiences created by experts, delivered effectively and efficiently to learners of many backgrounds via proven conduits, thus providing a return on the public’s investment in NASA’s scientific research.
The draft CAN was issued for a 30-day discussion period with a request for responses by mid-December 2014. NASA chose to use a cooperative agreement in lieu of a contract or grant, with the expectation that the agency would engage in substantial interaction with the parties that are selected.
A cooperative agreement occurs when there is a transfer of something of value to an entity, such as a municipality, state government, or private company, to be used for a public purpose. This legal agreement involves two parties: the federal government and another entity.12 The goal of the CAN is to meet the following education objectives of NASA SMD: enable STEM education, improve science literacy in the United States, advance national education goals, and utilize partnerships to leverage science education. CAN awards are anticipated by September 2015, and NASA has the intention to select one or multiple science discipline teams(s).
7 NGSS, “Science Education in the 21st Century—Why K-12 Science Standards Matter—and Why the Time Is Right to Develop Next Generation Science Standards,” May 2012 Draft, http://www.nextgenscience.org/sites/ngss/files/Why%20K12%20Standards%20Matter%20%20FINAL.pdf.
8 NGSS, “Development Overview,” http://www.nextgenscience.org/development-overview, accessed January 15, 2015.
12 Kristen Erickson, NASA SMD, “NASA Science Mission Directorate Education Discussion with The National Academies Space Studies Board,” presentation to the workshop, 2014.