NSTA Adds Calif. to Project To Link Teaching and Standards

By David J. Hoff — April 10, 2002 3 min read
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The nation’s most populous state is now part of the nation’s largest effort to link science instruction to national standards.

The National Science Teachers Association announced at its annual convention here last month that California educators will band together to help teachers change how they teach so their courses are aligned with the state’s science standards.

“Today’s announcement could not have come at a better time,” Scott Hill, California’s deputy superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. “This network will, for the first time, let California science educators communicate with each other about what constitutes science inquiry and science literacy.”

California is the latest addition to the NSTA’s Building a Presence for Science program. The 6-year-old project—underwritten by the ExxonMobil Foundation—so far has created networks of science educators in 20 states and the District of Columbia. Through electronic mail and other communications, state and national leaders suggest materials that teachers can use to meet the objectives in their states’ standards.

Key Leaders

Every state has so-called key leaders who act as conduits to teachers in all its public schools. California has already identified 300 teachers and administrators who will distribute materials to the state’s 12,500 schools. WestEd, a federally financed regional education research laboratory, will coordinate the project in the Golden State.

With the addition of California, the project will reach 14,000 teachers throughout the country.

The NSTA plans to add four more states to the network over the next two years. Other partners in the project include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, and groups representing chemists, biology teachers, and physics teachers.

ExxonMobil has spent more than $6 million on the Building a Presence for Science program since it began in 1996.

New Frontiers

The announcement was only a small part of the event here March 26-30 that drew 17,000 participants. The attendance was the highest ever for a NSTA annual meeting convened on the West Coast, according to Cynthia S. Workosky, a spokeswoman for the group.

Attendees could choose from a variety of topics that have been discussed in recent years, ranging from the impact of science-curriculum standards and assessments to learning hands-on ways to apply new technologies in classrooms.

But many gravitated toward sessions on early-childhood science education, a topic that appears to be of growing interest.

At a session describing efforts to create a preschool science curriculum, presenters ran out of handouts to give the 50 or so in attendance, saying that the previous year’s sessions hadn’t drawn as large an audience.

The challenge in early-childhood education is harnessing children’s natural scientific curiosity and helping them understand basic scientific facts.

“One of the things teachers say they struggle with is: ‘I know how to put out the materials, but I don’t know how to get the children to go deeper with them,’” said Jeffrey Winokur, a senior associate at the Education Development Center Inc.

The Newton, Mass.-based nonprofit company is finishing a three-year project subsidized by the National Science Foundation to create a science curriculum aimed at children ages 3 through 5.

With the correct materials, pupils can understand scientific concepts in their own way.

In a video of a Head Start classroom testing the new curriculum, for instance, one boy tries to stack as many foam blocks on top of each other as possible. On his second attempt, the youngster realizes that the structure is sturdiest if he precisely places the blocks atop one another.

For that lesson and others like it to be successful, teachers need the right materials, according to Karen Worth, a senior scientist at the EDC, which writes curriculum in other subjects, too. Without appropriate materials, the children’s experiments might fail.

“You need a good array of blocks, not just random pieces of wood,” Ms. Worth said. And you need to make sure other types of equipment, such as magnifying glasses, are in good shape.

At another early-childhood session, a packed room awaited information on creating experiments for youngsters to conduct with their parents. But the presenters never showed up.

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A version of this article appeared in the April 10, 2002 edition of Education Week as NSTA Adds Calif. to Project To Link Teaching and Standards


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