AAAS science literacy project 20th anniversary, Oct. 17-19

10/12/05

With anti evolution advocates trying to insert "intelligent design" into science classrooms, an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) program aimed at improving science literacy and setting standards is now more important than ever as it marks its 20th anniversary.

Project 2061, which celebrates the anniversary October 17-19 at AAAS, has developed widely influential science education standards, including benchmarks for teaching about evolution and the nature of science. Since its inception in 1985, the Project has advocated that science--crucial for an informed citizenship and for keeping pace in a global market-- is for all students, not just for those going on to technical careers.

"Project 2061 has had a profound effect on me and the teachers I teach," said Sally Duff, who uses several Project publications, including Benchmarks for Science Literacy, as textbooks in her two graduate courses.

Duff, formerly a Baltimore City Public Schools science teacher and currently teaching two graduate education courses at The Johns Hopkins University, has helped in the writing of several Project 2061 publications and has led numerous AAAS workshops for teachers. She is also developing curricula for a couple of school systems.

Duff says the benchmarks have helped her and her student teachers a great deal, but a lot more work needs to be done to improve science literacy.

That has become apparent in the current debate over evolution in Dover, Pa. and other locales, where advocates have been trying to insert "intelligent design" into the science classroom as an alternative to evolution. A Gallup poll last year found that 45 per cent of those surveyed believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.

According to Project 2061's director, Jo Ellen Roseman, the problem is not limited to evolution. "There is considerable evidence to show that most Americans today have not been adequately prepared in science," she said. What is needed is "for more people to understand not just key science concepts-natural selection or conservation and transformation of energy, for example-but also to understand the nature of science, the importance of evidence in scientific argument, and the kinds of questions science can and cannot address. All of these ideas are at the core of what it means to be science literate."

In its 1989 landmark publication, Science for All Americans, Project 2061 set out recommendations for what all students should know and be able to do in science, mathematics, and technology by the time they graduate from high school. A 1993 follow-up publication, Benchmarks for Science Literacy, translated those recommendations into learning goals, or benchmarks, for grades K-12. Many of today's state and national standards documents have drawn their content from Benchmarks.

The anticipated return of Halley's Comet in 2061 inspired the initiative's name and is a reminder of its mission to reform K-12 science education so that broad science literacy becomes a reality by the time the comet reappears. Among its many accomplishments in the last 20 years, the AAAS Project has helped educators make better decisions about what to include in the science curriculum and to use teaching strategies that move students away from rote memorization toward a deeper knowledge of the most important ideas and skills.

Project 2061 has also created resources to help educators meet science learning goals in their districts. That proved especially critical after Project 2061's studies of 44 of the most popular middle and high school science and mathematics textbooks found that very few were adequate in helping students learn key ideas. Furthermore, Project 2061, with the help of the AAAS Education and Human Resources office, has been working with science centers and museums across the country to reach out to communities through public science events in order to build support for science literacy among parents, especially in minority communities.

Project 2061 has maintained a close working relationship with teachers on the front lines of the efforts to improve student performance in science, including many teachers in the District of Columbia public schools.

According to Phyllis Harvey-Buschel, who has been teaching science in D.C. for eight years, the challenge involves more than just providing clear learning benchmarks. "The biggest problem is that the dynamics in schools have changed so much," said Harvey-Buschel, who has worked with the Project in developing its biology curriculum. She must spend much more of her time dealing with students' behavioral problems now than she did eight years ago. In addition, classrooms are more crowded and some science lab space has been converted for classroom use.

"You don't have control over those factors," said Harvey-Buschel. "You still have to teach." And the Benchmarks often help.

"After working with the Benchmarks, I see that there are some things you have to do," she explained. "It's not OK to just gloss over things. There are concepts that must be understood at a particular level to prepare the student for the next level."

Project 2061's anniversary event will bring together educators from around the country, past and present Project 2061 staff, science education reform leaders, and other supporters of the Project to discuss what "science literacy for all" means today and to consider the most promising directions for future work.

WHAT: AAAS Project 2061 20th Anniversary Event

WHEN: October 17 - 19

October 17:

8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Professional Development Workshop for Science Teachers

October 18:

8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Professional Development Workshop for Science Teachers

5 p.m. - Remarks by Dr. Alan Leshner, CEO, AAAS; Dr. Gil Omenn, president, AAAS; Dr. Iris Weiss, president, Horizon Research, Inc.; Linda Froschauer, president-elect, NSTA; Dr. Jo Ellen Roseman, director, Project 2061

6 p.m. - Reception

October 19:

8:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Professional Development Workshop for Science Teachers

WHERE: AAAS, 12th and H Streets, NW, Washington, DC

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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