|Moderator||Brett Moulding, Utah Partnership for Effective Science Teaching and Learning, and Organizing Committee Co-Chair|
|Speaker||Stephen Pruitt, Achieve|
|Panelists||Maya Garcia, Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Government of the District of Columbia
John Ristvey, University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
Holly Ryer, Space Telescope Science Institute
Sam Shaw, South Dakota Department of Education
Stephen Pruitt, Achieve
Teaching the Underlying Concepts
Stephen Pruitt, senior vice president for content, research and development at Achieve, gave the address to begin Session 1. Pruitt, who led the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS),1 explained that he started his career as a teacher.
I remember vividly discussing the Mars mission and having two of the football players explaining how the need to have the weight room on the ship as they travel to Mars was important to not lose muscle in space. And I said, ‘How are you going to have a weight room when weight has something to do with gravity?’ The students said, We’ve got a plan for that, we’re going to close the door really fast before we take off and trap it in. At that point in my career, (a) I realized I had not done a really good job of teaching [gravity], but, (b) I also started to realize that teaching is about helping kids understand scientific principles and how to apply them to phenomena and be able to explain multiple things with some very specific and strategic concepts.
Pruitt eventually moved from teaching to education administration. There, he learned that the problems of teaching were not simply isolated. They were part of a broader societal struggle with explaining science and science education.
Pruitt emphasized that the National Science Education Standards (NSES),2 like all good scientific theories, are built on the theory that preceded them. He said that the NSES was a great document when it was released in the 1990s, but many things have happened since the 1990s—texting, DVDs, and reclassifying Pluto as a dwarf planet, for example. When Pluto was changed to a dwarf planet, Pruitt spent an hour on the phone with a reporter from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, who kept asking when [Pruitt] was going to send a personal letter or e-mail to every teacher in the State of Georgia explaining that Pluto would no longer be tested. Pruitt said that he grew frustrated with the reporter.
I kept explaining, “That’s not the point. We don’t test the planets.”
The reporter said, “Wait, you mean you don’t test the order of the planets?”
“No, we don’t test them. We talk about what planets are, what the driving force in the solar system is, and talk about how excited the town was to see this kind of debate going on and how science really works.”
And the reporter said, “So let me get this straight, you don’t think that every teacher needs to know you’re not testing?”
I replied, “We are not testing it now, we are not going to change because its status changed.”
I knew that I was going to end up in magazines across the country. I was going to be on bulletin boards in every classroom.
At the end, as we were hanging up, the reporter said, “Well, Dr. Pruitt, do you think that kids are still going to use solar system models for science fair projects?”
And flippantly I said, “Yes, but now they only need eight balls instead of nine.” That was the only quote that got into the article. Next day, there was a political cartoon that had a picture of the CEO of Styrofoam Balls Inc. saying, “Bad news, we predict a one-ninth decrease in our sales over the next school science fair season.”
Pruitt explained that not only is this a good laugh, but also it is important because the reporter did not understand context. He did not understand that it is not just about memorizing planets, but it is about actually understanding what makes the solar system work.
Pruitt acknowledged that the scientific concepts are not easy. He said, “For instance, in any school in America, you could find a model. About 80% of them are edible—Jell-O molds of a cell with a big cookie with green icing representing mitochondria. Are those really models? I would say no.” Pruitt continued that students have to identify the components of a system and then understand the connection between those components and what is it about the components that build to an explanation. Finally, the student has to identify the relationship between those components and the phenomenon that the student is actually studying. In other words, can this model actually be used to explain the evidence, or can it predict future phenomena? Pruitt said, “That is a model. Jell-O molds will not quite get there. In fact, I’ve jokingly said that one of the definitions for how you know if something is a model or not is: can you eat it? If you can, maybe it is not a model. Maybe it is a representation.”
Pruitt said that science classes need to bring back the wonder of science. He does not want science to be a “word wall” with a bunch of science phrases on it that get crossed out as the teacher teaches them to the students.
These core ideas, when you look at them in the framework and the NGSS, it is really about what has explanatory power. When you think about a meteorite hitting the Moon and shaping the Moon’s surface, is it really about the meteorite? Is it really about the Moon’s surface? Or is it about what it can tell us about the history of the Moon?
2 National Research Council, National Science Education Standards, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1996.
3 National Research Council, A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, The National Academies Press, Washington, D.C., 2012.
Meaning, maybe I need to understand that the bigger the mass, the more force is exerted when it hit. Maybe I understand more about the acceleration and the velocity of it, not just simply [that] it hit.
Pruitt also referred to crosscutting concepts. “They may be some of the most powerful things out there, and they may also be the forgotten dimension in a lot of places,” he admitted. “These are the things that really bring the sciences together. They provide a cognitive structure for kids to be able to think about science. It’s the fact that when we talk about energy and biology, it’s the same as the energy we talked about in chemistry, the same energy we talk about in physics,” he said.
Pruitt said that one promising development in recent years is that engineering is now part of the conversation on science. Until recently, engineering was often treated as part of a career track, not within the same realm as science and mathematics.
However, science education still remains trapped in other old-style concepts, Pruitt said. For example, every science textbook starts with the scientific method. But the scientific method is not how science actually works. Instead, it is a much more convoluted and iterative process. According to Pruitt, an important objective is to teach students to appreciate the practice of science, not the “scientific method.” (See Figure I.1 for the list of scientific and engineering practices in the Framework.)
Aligning with the NGSS
Pruitt discussed how the NGSS were written not to guide the states, but to push the system to adopt new standards. He described a vision for instruction where the teachers are not “standing and telling”; instead, the children are learning and performing to demonstrate an understanding of doing science.
What are the implications of the NGSS for NASA? According to Pruitt, NASA will need to change its materials to better align. But alignment is not simply “checking the box.” Alignment is making programs and lessons more like the Framework and the NGSS. “We are going to see a massive change in what is expected in classrooms. Part of what has happen is to deliver quality instructional materials. I believe NASA can do that. I believe NASA gives a real opportunity to bring back the wonder,” Pruitt concluded.
Maya Garcia, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) specialist for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education for the Government of the District of Columbia; John Ristvey, director of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research; Holly Ryer, an education specialist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI); and Sam Shaw, team leader of the Division of Learning and Instruction for the South Dakota Department of Education, joined Brett Moulding and Steven Pruitt for the panel discussion (Figure 2.1).
The organizing committee developed the following guiding questions to provide focus to the panel discussion:
- Present an overview of the NGSS and the role of NASA in supporting science and engineering education.
- How can/does NASA interact effectively with the education system to support K-12 science and engineering education?
- What opportunities does NASA Science Mission Directorate (SMD) have to better support the new vision described in the National Research Council’s A Framework for K-12 Science Education?
- How can/does NASA integrate the science and engineering talent of NASA SMD into the SMD education programs?
Ryer explained that STScI has always developed materials based on educational needs. She said that the STScI’s work is attractive to students because it not only addresses content, but it also has students using actual solar system data and performing statistical analyses with those data. Students organize, interpret, and draw conclusions about relationships between solar system objects. Rather than considering each solar system object in
FIGURE 2.1 Panel discussion for Session 1. SOURCE: Harrison Dreves, NRC.
isolation, students consider those objects as members of families. For example, Pluto is a member of a family of objects known as dwarf planets.
Ryer said that the NGSS focuses on science investigations and engineering and creating models of the real world. Similarly, NASA products can emphasize statistics, families, and groupings, but with real data that interest students.
Shaw explained that it is important for science teachers to understand how the work that NASA or a scientific organization does fits into their curriculum. “They [the content creators] think they’re doing teachers a favor by saying ‘This will fit kindergarten through 12th grade,’” Shaw said, “and what ends up happening is a volcano model, and it is an edible model.”
Garcia explained that the Framework has two goals: all children will understand science well, and what students are taught will “act as a springboard” for some to eventually pursue scientific careers.
Ristvey stated that one of the values of integrating scientists and engineers into education is that they are practicing in a field that could be open to current students. They can help children understand what a career path in the sciences looks like. Scientists and engineers can make connections with project-based learning. NASA also provides real-life resources: men and women doing science and engineering using cutting-edge technology.
A member of the audience asked how the NGSS can be a springboard for STEM students and meet the needs of all children. Garcia answered that it is important to make learning accessible, no matter what the students starts with—if they are diverse groups, have special learning needs, or are performing above average. She noted that the three dimensions of the Framework allow teachers to recognize and assess students’ understanding and then adapt and build learning around them.
An audience member asked how the Framework can help poor, underachieving schools and students. The panelists responded that the nation is making progress, but that first and foremost, champions for STEM education are needed. STEM needs to be more accessible as a content area in general. A panelist explained that when speaking to non-science people, it is important to put science in context. NASA can provide leadership for how science is a part of everyday life.
Another question from the audience was how to get teachers to be more “math-enabled.” Pruitt said that one problem with past approaches was that they did not make clear connections between math and science. The math and science standards have to be coordinated. A member of the audience chimed in by saying, “Einstein had a famous quote that science without math is lame and math without science is blind.”
In response to a question about assessments, Pruitt suggested that educators should not lead with a test. He said that it would be better to lead with building capacity for teachers to implement the NGSS and then build a test that matches what is going on in the classrooms.