A Framework for K-12 Science Education
Frequently Asked Questions
Background and Basics
Content of the Framework
Implementing the Framework
Background and basics
A Framework for K-12 Science Education identifies the key scientific practices, concepts and ideas that all students should learn by the time they complete high school. It is intended as a guide for those who develop science education standards, those who design curricula and assessments, and others who work in K-12 science education.
The framework organizes science education around three dimensions:
- Scientific and engineering practices. The framework identifies eight key practices that students should learn, such as asking questions and defining problems, planning and carrying out investigations, and engaging in argument from evidence.
- Crosscutting concepts. The framework also specifies seven concepts students should learn --such as “cause and effect” and “patterns” -- that have explanatory value across much of science and engineering.
- Disciplinary core ideas. The framework identifies ideas in four disciplinary areas – life sciences; physical sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology, and the applications of science. Students’ knowledge of these ideas should deepen over time, and the framework specifies aspects of each idea that students should know by the end of grades two, five, eight, and 12.
These three dimensions should not be taught separately from one another. Rather, they should be integrated in standards, assessment, curricula and instruction. For example, students should use the practices – such as conducting investigations and then analyzing and interpreting the data – to learn more about the core ideas.
A key purpose for the framework is to serve as the basis for new science education standards. The framework lays out broadly the core ideas and practices that students should learn, and the standards will build upon that foundation, explaining in detail what students should learn at various grade levels. A group of states will lead the development of the standards, in a process coordinated by nonprofit education organization Achieve Inc. (See http://www.nextgenscience.org/ for further information about the next steps in this process.) When the standards are done, states can voluntarily adopt them to guide science education in their public schools.
The framework is also meant to be useful to others who work in science education, including curriculum developers and assessment designers; schools and educators who train teachers and create professional development materials for them; state and district science supervisors, who make key decisions about curriculum, instruction, and professional development; and science educators who work in informal settings, such as museum exhibit designers. Work toward incorporating the framework’s vision in these areas can start now, even before the new science standards are completed.
There are several, converging motivations for creating the framework and revising the science education standards. First, science, engineering and technology permeate every aspect of modern life; some knowledge of science and engineering is required to understand and participate in many major public policy discussions, as well as to make informed everyday decisions. This has heightened the importance of providing a strong science education for all students.
Second, new knowledge about the teaching and learning of science has accumulated in the past 15 years. This knowledge can be used to improve current science education. We also have learned from efforts to implement the previous sets of science education standards, experience that can also inform the new revisions. While the standards developed in the 1990s were a major step forward, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all students across the United States have the opportunity to experience a high quality science education.
Third, there is a window of opportunity now, when states are working collaboratively to develop common standards. The majority of states have voluntarily adopted the Common Core standards in mathematics and English/language arts. It is important to ensure that they also have high quality standards in science available for consideration.
The framework was developed by an 18-member committee of experts in education and scientists from many disciplines, appointed by the National Research Council. The report represents their consensus based on all of the evidence and information they collected during 18 months of deliberation and writing, a process that also included public meetings where the committee heard from members of the science and education communities and others.
First, the committee developed a draft of the framework, drawing on their own expertise, current research on how students learn about science, previous standards documents, and guidance from small teams of specialists in four disciplinary areas: life sciences; physical sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology and applications of science.
A draft of the framework was released to the public online in the summer of 2010 so that the committee could gather comments from scientists, science educators, education researchers, and others. The National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Council of State Science Supervisors and other groups aided this effort by gathering feedback from their members. The committee then revised the framework, drawing upon the comments. (See appendix A of the report for further description of this process.)
As a final step to ensure high quality, the framework went through the National Research Council’s intensive, confidential peer-review process. Over 20 additional experts reviewed the framework and provided comments and suggestions, which the committee considered in writing the final version.
Content of the framework
The core ideas are those ideas in science that have broad importance and explanatory power in a discipline or across disciplines of science, and which are teachable and learnable at increasing levels of depth over multiple years. The core ideas are grouped into four major domains: physical sciences; life sciences; earth and space sciences; and engineering, technology and applications of science. In the framework itself, each broad core idea is described and then broken down into more focused component ideas.
As you read the framework, keep in mind that the order in which the core and component ideas are presented does not imply that this is the order in which they should be presented in a curriculum. Similarly, we do not anticipate that each core idea will take up the same amount of curriculum or instructional time. Nor is each core idea a unit of instruction or meant to be taught as a single isolated idea. Issues related to order, time and emphasis will need to be considered when developing curricula based on the framework and the Next Generation Science Standards.
Initial drafts of the core ideas were developed by design teams made up of specialists in the four disciplinary areas. The teams drew upon previous efforts -- such as Project 2061 Benchmarks for Scientific Literacy, the National Research Council’s 1996 National Science Education Standards, and similar documents-- as well as relevant research on learning and teaching in science. The teams presented these drafts to the committee, who revised them and included them in the framework draft released for public comment in July 2010. The committee then revised the ideas somewhat based on the feedback received.
As they developed and refined the final list of core ideas, the committee applied four criteria. A core idea should:
1) Have broad importance across multiple sciences or engineering disciplines or be a key organizing principle of a single discipline.
2) Provide a key tool for understanding or investigating more complex ideas and solving problems.
3) Relate to the interests and life experiences of students or be connected to societal or personal concerns that require scientific or technical knowledge.
4) Be teachable and learnable over multiple grades at increasing levels of depth and sophistication. That is, the idea can be made accessible to younger students but is broad enough to sustain continued investigation over years.
Every core idea had to meet at least two of these criteria, and preferably three or all four.
The goals of the new framework are similar in many ways to those of previous standards documents, such as the AAAS Benchmarks and the National Research Council’s 1996 National Science Education Standards. But much has been learned over the past decade about how students learn science most effectively, and the new framework incorporates those findings and approaches.
Some of the main ways that the new framework differs from previous standards are:
- The new framework specifies eight science and engineering practices that students should learn and use over the course of their schooling. Examples include asking questions and defining problems, analyzing and interpreting data, and engaging in argument from evidence. The previous standards included practices in its model of “inquiry-based learning,” but the new framework is more specific about the practices that students should learn and use.
- The new framework is designed to bring greater coherence to the science education that students receive across grades K-12. One aspect of this coherence is the emphasis on deepening students’ knowledge of core ideas systematically over multiple grade levels. Another aspect of coherence is the integration of a common set of practices and crosscutting concepts across the disciplines of science and across all of the grades.
Finally, the framework calls for a full integration of the practices of science with the ideas and concepts. That is, students should learn the ideas of science through actually doing science. This approach was also emphasized in previous documents, but was not fully implemented on a wide scale.
The term inquiry has been interpreted over time in many different ways throughout the science education community. By describing specific practices, our aim is to provide a clearer view of what is meant by inquiry in science and the range of cognitive, social, and physical practices that it requires. For further discussion of this topic, see chapter 3 of A Framework for K-12 Science Education.
Implementing the framework
The work on the Next Generation Science Standards is being conducted by a group of states coordinated by Achieve, a nonprofit educational organization. More information on their process and timeline is available at www.nextgenscience.org.
The framework calls for students to engage in the scientific practices in order to learn the core ideas and cross-cutting concepts, and their learning should be assessed in similar way. Measuring not just students’ knowledge but their ability to engage in the practices poses a challenge for assessment, especially large-scale assessment. There are promising models that exist, but they have not been brought to scale. The development of appropriate assessments is one of the major implementation tasks. The work on what these assessments might look like can begin now before the new science education standards are released.
The vision set forth in the framework requires significant changes in how new teachers are educated, as well as changes in professional development for current teachers. Science teachers at all levels will need to be knowledgeable about all three dimensions of the framework – the practices, cross-cutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas -- and understand what it means to integrate them. They may need particular support to fully understand the practices and to feel comfortable supporting students in learning them.
We anticipate that accomplishing these changes will require the efforts of many different organizations and individuals in the science education community. This is one reason that it is important to start the conversation about implementation now, before the Next Generation Science Standards are finalized.
We are working through professional associations to ensure that those central to science teacher education and professional development are using up-to-date resources and techniques, and you can help. One way is to join or be active in associations that help set teacher program standards, such as the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA).
There is also much that can be done now with respect to professional development. NSTA offers many free resources through their extensive online learning center. The free pdfs from the National Academy Press can serve as books or chapters for book studies. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future has just released an evaluation of the value of professional learning communities, and there are many already active online. (An example is the National School Reform Faculty; see http://www.nsrfharmony.org/) The framework can be a valuable resource and topic for these communities.
The framework recommends that those who develop the new science standards build in links to the mathematics and English/language arts Common Core standards. Two of the science and engineering practices are directly relevant: using mathematical and computational thinking and obtaining, evaluating and communicating information. There are also strong parallels between the practices in the framework and the practices in the Common Core standards regarding classroom discourse and argumentation.
The framework provides a broad vision for science education and begins to discuss the challenges that will need to be overcome in order to realize this vision. Work can begin now on thinking through and planning for the changes that will be needed in assessment, curriculum, instruction, and professional development for teachers in order to support this vision and facilitate implementation of the new standards. The science education community as a whole needs to engage in these discussions, develop a plan of action, and mobilize support and resources at the local, state, regional and national levels.
While the framework was written with K-12 schools and students in mind, we believe it is relevant and useful for a broad range of science educators working in many different settings, including informal settings such as museums and afterschool programs and in higher education. The framework can help educators in these settings reflect on their goals for science learning and consider how their activities can complement what students will be learning in K-12 classrooms.
Copies of the framework and a report brief can be downloaded free of charge at http://www.nap.edu.
Members of the committee that developed the framework plan to give presentations at future meetings and symposia, such as those held by the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Geophysical Union, the Council of State Science Supervisors and the National Association of Biology Teachers. The National Research Council also hopes to offer webinars on the framework in order to reach educators, state science supervisors, and other audiences. Specifics about future events will be posted on this website as they are scheduled.