The COVID-19 pandemic is resulting in widespread and ongoing changes to how the K–12 education system functions, including disruptions to science teaching and learning environments. Students and teachers are all figuring out how to do schooling differently, and districts and states are working overtime to reimagine systems and processes. These efforts are difficult and stressful in the middle of the already stressful and sometimes traumatic backdrop of the global pandemic. In addition, students with disabilities, students of color, immigrants, English learners, and students from underresourced communities have been disproportionately affected, both by the pandemic itself and by the resulting instructional shifts.
In spring 2020, many schools throughout the country shifted to remote instruction while having little or no time to plan out new expectations and procedures. Despite the challenges, there were many bright spots of innovation around the country. In a recent survey, some teachers reported that they were able to take advantage of new levels of flexibility and technological supports to provide engaging learning opportunities for their students. Educators throughout the country have been finding ways to maintain and improve science and engineering experiences, for example, by making more connections to students’ homes and communities. These models can be instructive to the field as practitioners work together to support rich and engaging science and engineering teaching and learning for all students, including those who have been traditionally underserved.
However, the same survey of teacher practices during the first few months of the pandemic found that the disruptions to the education system resulted in instructional practices that did not always reflect the body of research on teaching
and learning. For example, 88 percent of teachers indicated that their students were spending less time on science through remote learning than they had in the classroom, and only 38 percent of teachers reported that students had been engaged in experiments or investigations through remote learning.
The 2020–2021 school year will continue to be challenging. States and districts have been making difficult decisions about reopening and restructuring schooling, and these decisions will in many cases be continually revisited during the school year as the public health context changes in each community. Some are starting with remote learning; others are starting with hybrid environments, with some students connected remotely and others participating in person; some are starting with blended environments, with all students participating in both remote and in-person learning at different times; and still others are starting with fully in-person models with social distancing.
Whatever approach is used, it remains essential that all students have access to a high-quality science and engineering education. Currently, many economic and social inequities persist in students’ access to supports such as broadband and computing devices. The 2020 report Reopening K–12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Prioritizing Health, Equity, and Communities cautions: “Without careful implementation, virtual learning alone runs the risk of exacerbating disparities in access to high-quality education across different demographic groups and communities.”
It is important to remember that during large and ongoing system disruptions, it is expected that adjustments will take time and may happen more than once. Even if all school plans were concrete and unchanging, the adjustment process would be similar to a sprinter being asked to run a marathon. Educators cannot be expected to run the marathon on day one. With uncertainty about future plans added to the equation, this process is even more difficult, forcing all educators to be flexible and innovative and to have back-up plans ready. However, it is important to lay out a vision of the end goal and to provide support for moving continuously in that direction. Throughout all of the ongoing adjustments that need to be made, the vision for high-quality science and engineering education does not change.
The global pandemic emphasizes the need for all citizens to be scientifically literate—to understand data and be able to critically weigh evidence. The accelerating changes to a job market that is rapidly transitioning to autonomous systems
and machine learning highlights the need for students to learn to be knowledge creators and problem solvers. All students need a high-quality science and engineering education that will prepare them for success in school, careers, and in life.
“Many of the challenges that face humanity now and in the future—related, for example, to the environment, energy, and health—require social, political, and economic solutions that must be informed deeply by knowledge of the underlying science and engineering.”1
By working together to support students and their science and engineering learning, educators can help ensure that the next generation is equipped to address the challenges of the future.
PURPOSE OF THIS BOOK
This book aims to describe what high-quality science and engineering education can look like in a time of great uncertainty and to support science and engineering practitioners as they work toward their goals. It includes guidance—with an emphasis on the needs of district science supervisors, curriculum leads, and instructional coaches—about how K–12 science and engineering learning experiences can
- function during disruptions to education systems;
- adapt as needed to support students and their families dealing with ongoing changes to instructional and home environments; and
- remain at high quality or even increase in quality, even if some content coverage is reduced this year.
It is not the purpose of this volume to reiterate all of the many considerations related to reopening schools nor to focus on public health guidance, which
1 For more information, see A Framework for K–12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, p. 7. Available: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/13165/a-framework-for-k-12-science-educationpractices-crosscutting-concepts.
is available from many sources.2,3,4 This volume also does not describe in detail many of the issues that are common to all areas of education, such as staffing needs. Several organizations have recently provided guidance related to these systems issues.5,6
This book is grounded in several previous reports of the Board on Science Education (BOSE) beginning with the Framework for K–12 Science Education (NASEM, 2012) and including subsequent reports the board produced to provide guidance on implementing the vision of the Framework. Links to the relevant portions of these reports are included throughout the book. These resources provide in-depth guidance about the vision of the Framework and the steps educators need to take to realize that vision.
This volume also incorporates multiple vignettes drawn from real classrooms and schools. These were shared by educators from across the United States. These vignettes provide concrete examples of how high-quality science and engineering education can be maintained and even strengthened, despite the current crisis and the resulting disruptions to the education system.
AUDIENCE FOR THE BOOK
This book is intended for all of the individuals who are involved in making decisions about curriculum and instruction for science and engineering education in schools. This includes curriculum supervisors, district and school administrators, instructional coaches, lead teachers, and classroom teachers. It will also be helpful for curriculum developers and providers as they modify their materials to respond to the constantly changing conditions during the pandemic. Many of the examples focus on planning for instruction because the vision for high-quality instruction needs to inform the broader decisions about curriculum, allocation of time, and staffing that are made by administrators.
2 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidance for school settings.
ORGANIZATION OF THE BOOK
The next chapter lays out the foundational principles that serve as the lens through which all decisions about planning for science education during this crisis and others in the future need to be made. Each of the subsequent chapters (Chapters 3–7) includes guiding questions, relevant research, stories of implementation efforts and strategies by practitioners, and suggestions for next steps to take. In addition, where implementation is likely to look very different in different grade bands, those differences are discussed. Not every implementation idea will be directly applicable to all contexts, but they can help provide ideas that can be modified for local conditions and needs.