Teacher Workshops Seek To Make Science Benchmarks Useful Tools

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Chevy Chase, Md.

Holding up a makeshift container filled with raisins, Richard Wilson explains how he and three fellow science teachers approached the task of turning miscellaneous materials into a practical, eye-catching, yet ecologically sound substitute for the familiar boxes that usually hold the fruit.

"We considered volume when we designed this, and we thought a cylinder would hold more than a box,'' he explains to a roomful of teachers as part of an exercise on the mechanics of packaging.

"When they finish all of the raisins, [children] can use it as a pencil box,'' he adds.

Mr. Wilson was one of about 120 K-12 science teachers from the District of Columbia public schools who attended an unusual workshop here this month to learn how to infuse the American Association for the Advancement of Science's benchmarks for science literacy into their daily work.

The lesson on packaging, for example, drew on information in two chapters of the association's "Benchmarks for Science Literacy,'' a guide to curriculum reform that outlines the concepts that students should learn in grades 2, 5, 8, and 12 to achieve basic "scientific literacy'' by the time they graduate.

"We're going to take this book apart so that you know how to use it as a tool,'' said Mary Ann Brearton, the field-services coordinator for Project 2061, the association's long-term reform initiative, at the beginning of the daylong session.

The workshop was part of a comprehensive strategy to expose a range of educators to the benchmarks and help them think about how to incorporate the guidelines into curriculum-reform efforts.

'Absolutely a Beginning'

The benchmarks were developed by teams of educators in six sites nationwide as the pedagogic foundation for Project 2061.

The project is named for the year in which Halley's Comet will next visit the solar system.

The publication of the benchmarks last October was a first step in helping educators design effective curricula aimed at enabling students to achieve the vision outlined in "Science for All Americans,'' the association's manifesto for adult science literacy. (See Education Week, Oct. 27, 1993.)

But Project 2061 officials note that developing the benchmarks and incorporating them into a workable K-12 science curriculum are different propositions.

"We're struggling with the idea that benchmarks, themselves, don't tell people how to use them,'' said Jo Ellen Roseman, the project's curriculum director.

As efforts to develop national standards for the full range of subjects come to fruition, the question of how to transform sweeping documents such as the benchmarks into effective teaching tools at the local level will be crucial in determining the success or failure of reforms, Ms. Roseman said.

One tack the A.A.A.S. is taking is to sponsor workshops to demonstrate the document's practical applications to classroom educators.

Another tactic is to schedule workshops for educational and other policymakers in the roughly two dozen states that are part of the National Science Foundation's State Systemic Initiative Program.

The third approach is to influence publishers and other materials developers to shape their products around the benchmarks.

Delicate Balance

Still, it is front-line teachers who will in the final analysis decide whether the benchmarks become a staple of classroom teaching.

Designing a workshop that conveys the philosophical underpinnings of the benchmarks document while making clear their practical value is a delicate balance, noted Sharon Lynch, a professor of secondary science education at George Washington University.

"I was pleased that this time it scratched the surface well,'' said Ms. Lynch, who helped design the workshop, one a series.

Frances G. Brock, the acting supervising director for science with the District of Columbia schools, stressed the importance of having teachers understand how national reform relates to local curriculum frameworks.

"We are undergoing systemic reform,'' she said, "and this is part of our effort to make sure that teachers are aware of the latest thinking in science education.''

Vol. 13, Issue 26

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