Published Online: May 14, 2013
Published in Print: May 15, 2013, as Informal Sector Seen as Ally in Science Inititiative

Informal Science Sector Aims to Play Standards Role

When states were reviewing drafts of the Next Generation Science Standards, the teams they assembled didn't include just state officials and K-12 educators. Others invited to the table came from higher education, the business community, and the informal science education sector.

States that adopt the standards may well find this last group a natural, but often underused, ally in helping teachers and students come to grips with the vision espoused for science education.

After all, the standards are focused not simply on mastering scientific facts, but also engaging in a set of practices to demonstrate student learning, such as planning and carrying out investigations, constructing explanations, and designing solutions.

"It really gives informal educators a strong footing to position themselves as a resource for formal educators," said Jared R. Bixby, the curator of education for the Sunset Zoo and the Flint Hills Discovery Center, in Manhattan, Kan.

"We provide that hands-on link for teachers," said Mr. Bixby, who served on the Kansas review team. "We're trying to make sure formal educators understand this, and not just use [these resources] as an end-of-year field trip to get the kids out of the classroom and let them run."

Attention to the role the informal science education sector plays in boosting student interest in that subject and related fields, as well as in student learning, has increased. The sector includes science-rich cultural institutions such as zoos, aquariums, and natural-history museums. Other examples include after-school programs, science competitions, and radio and television programs, such as "SciGirls," a program from PBS that targets girls ages 8-13.

Matt D. Krehbiel, a science education consultant for the education department in Kansas, a lead state in developing the standards, said he sees real potential for the informal sector in helping K-12 teachers. "They bring some of those real-life, relevant pieces to what's going on," he said. "A lot of other content areas don't have that available resource, and we haven't tapped into it the way we could."

'Learning Laboratory'

In Boston, the Museum of Science closely tracked the development of the standards, said Patti Curtis, a director with the museum, which, in addition to being a popular site for field trips, has devised curricula for schools.

The museum also operates after-school programs and provides teacher professional development. In fact, it's offering a "boot camp" for teachers this summer that will "go deep" into the new science standards, Ms. Curtis said.

"Our teams are aligning our formal curricula with the standards and also looking at our exhibits and other presentations," she said. "If you want to attract teachers and schools to visit, you want to make yourselves relevant."

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The New York Hall of Science is paying close attention to the standards, too, said President and CEO Margaret Honey, who called them a "huge step in the right direction." She said staff at the New York City museum are reviewing the standards now, and will be "aligning and adapting" some of its offerings, such as teacher training and the teacher guides it provides for those who bring school groups to the museum.

But she said the opportunities run deeper than that.

"We don't want to think of our place as just a museum," Ms. Honey said. It serves, rather, as a "learning laboratory" to try out innovative ways of exposing students to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

"We're very logical and grounded allies in the process of helping districts deliver on the new standards," she said.

Vol. 32, Issue 31, Page 12

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