By: Michael O'Toole
St Vrain Valley Schools K-12 Science Coordinator
As we embark on the journey to adopt the new 2020 Colorado Academic Science Standards, this transition isn't just about changing how students learn; it's about rethinking how teachers introduce science to their students. This monumental shift represents one of the most significant changes within the Colorado Department of Education's implementation of the 2020 state academic standards across all disciplines.
The Colorado Department of Education defines the 2020 Science Standards as: “what all Colorado students should know and be able to do in science as a result of their preschool through twelfth-grade science education. These standards outline the essential level of science content knowledge and the application of the skills needed by all Colorado citizens to participate productively in our increasingly global, information-driven society.”
The development of these standards drew upon various resources, including the Framework for K-12 Science Education, developed by the National Academy of Sciences. This publication distills over two decades of research in science education and sets the stage for three-dimensional science learning. These standards prioritize a student-centered approach to science teaching and learning, emphasizing the integration of practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts. The 2020 standards have transitioned to introducing scientific concepts through real-world phenomena. Establishing a crucial connection between students and science by presenting them with locally relevant examples, making science more relatable and engaging. As a result, this method fosters active learning, encouraging students to take charge of their learning and equips them with innovative thinking skills, providing a competitive edge in an ever-evolving world.
As educational leaders, we must recognize that multiple stakeholders play pivotal roles in this transformative process. While students and teachers are the most visible participants, we must not underestimate the contributions of parents and administrators, who are equally essential in nurturing scientifically informed students and fostering innovation.
Students should be continuously reminded that their active participation and curiosity help drive this evolution in science instruction. Strategies such as driving question boards and small group activities centered around 3D science practices will ultimately lead them to become better critical thinkers.
Teachers need to be provided with professional growth opportunities that encourage them to innovate how they convey the wonders of science to their students. This entails a thorough and honest self-evaluation of their current teaching practices and setting goals for gradual instructional changes at their own pace while welcoming some structured chaos into their classrooms.
This structured chaos is, in fact, emblematic of a true transition to three-dimensional practices and an embrace of innovation. It involves teachers relinquishing rigid lectures and timed hands-on experiences while welcoming student voices in the learning process. It encourages students to become active learners and critical thinkers in science instruction.
However, we must not forget the other two essential stakeholders in this process:
Parents: We hope to engage parents in fostering curiosity and innovation in their children. Parents can help instill a passion for innovation and discovery from an early age by actively participating in their child's science education journey.
Administrators: Administrators play a crucial role in driving innovation within their schools. They must be introduced to the new standards and practices as well as the challenges that teachers may face in implementing them. Administrators should provide the necessary encouragement and permission for educators to experiment with different instructional strategies, even if it means embracing a bit of structured chaos in the science classroom. This commitment to innovation ultimately gives their school a competitive edge in delivering high-quality science education.
In the St. Vrain Valley School District, adopting 3-dimensional-based materials was an inclusive and comprehensive process. We prioritized gathering input from teachers across all school buildings to make well-informed decisions. Their contributions were not only crucial in selecting the right instructional materials but also in ensuring that both students and teachers were adequately prepared for a seamless transition. Furthermore, teachers played a key role in creating effective communication strategies aimed at involving parents and administrators in the transition to 3-dimensional science instruction.
In summary, our collective effort in embracing the 2020 Colorado Academic Science Standards isn't just about changing how we teach and learn; it's about fostering innovation and gaining a competitive edge. It's a journey that involves all stakeholders, from students and teachers to parents and administrators, working together to cultivate a generation of scientifically literate, innovative, and competitive individuals poised for success in the 21st century.
Below are some resources that include tips and suggestions for parents and administrators, as well as a full 3D science self-evaluation guide for teachers.
Resources for Parents
Family and Community Guides to the Colorado Academic Standards: Science - Working Together: Resources to support families, communities, and teachers in realizing the goals of the Colorado Academic Standards (CAS), these guides provide an overview of the learning expectations for students studying science. This guide offers some learning experiences students may engage in at school that may also be supported at home.
NGSS Parent Guides: Preparing Students for a Lifetime of Success - Illustrate how the standards are a powerful foundation to help students build a cohesive understanding of science over time
Resources for Administrators
Principals as Leaders in NGSS Implementation - This resource underscores the principal's crucial role in promoting quality K-12 science education and offers practical strategies that can be incorporated into existing school plans.
CDE Science Standards Resources for Science and District Leaders - A collection of resources designed for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), though they are just as applicable for the Colorado Academic Standards (CAS), which were based on the NGSS.
Resources for TeachersInstructional Strategies for Science Practices: Self Evaluation - These evaluation continuums are intended for teachers to use in guiding and monitoring science practice-based instruction. Teachers might find these helpful for lesson planning and implementing science practices in their classrooms.
Author bio: Michael has been immersed in science education for close to three decades. Throughout his career as an educator and curriculum developer he has had the opportunity to work with students and teachers around the world and with such organizations as National Geographic, NASA, UCAR, the National Science Foundation, The GLOBE Program, Discovery Channel, the University of Louisville and the University of Colorado. Michael is currently in the position of Coordinator of Science Curriculum for St. Vrain Valley Schools.