AAAS Provides Standards for NASA Curriculum Materials

Volume 14, Number 3, September 1998


By Carolyn Ng and Farzad Mahootian

NSSDC/SSDOO and groups throughout NASA are developing products related to their science areas for use at varying levels in the nation's K-12 education endeavor. Some of these efforts are being done by, or in collaboration with, teachers. This article describes an approach to using science education standards developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to ensure classroom effectiveness of these products.

In the first week of August three SSDOO staff members joined 25 other GSFC scientists and educators in a 5-day pilot program that trained developers and reviewers of NASA educational materials on how to apply AAAS science education standards. The AAAS Project 2061 published these standards in a number of publications, starting with Science for All Americans, and subsequently Benchmarks for Science Literacy , and a continuing series of resource volumes. The Benchmarks comprise a system of learning goals for each science discipline at each grade level (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12), as well as elucidating goals for mathematics and cross-discplinary "common themes". The goal of the workshop was to learn the about the philosophy of 2061 and about the tools that contribute to facilitate both the analysis and the design of standards-based NASA curriculum support materials for K-12 science and math education.

Workshop leaders, Mary Ann Brearton and Marlene Hilkowitz, gave participants hands-on experience with analyzing educational materials to assess their alignment with standards. Using a middle school chemistry unit developed by the Michigan Department of Education, Marlene and Mary Ann helped workshop participants formulate an evaluation procedure. This process included the identification of specific Benchmarks relevant to the unit at hand, examination of the degree of alignment of the content with identified Benchmarks, analysis of the instructional effectiveness and age-appropriateness of the material, and analysis of the appropriateness of the assessment instruments (i.e., exercises, questions, tests, etc.) relative to the content presented in the unit.

potential appropriateness of materials to a range of grade-levels.

Participants also learned seven criteria clusters for determining the extent to which a material's instructional strategy was likely to help students learn the content. In examining the "Solar Storms and You!" workbook, SECEF members found that it embodied some of the learning strategies suggested by the Benchmarks. They found some sections that took account of student preconceptions and misconceptions; some examples where students were engaged with specific phenomena; and frequent opportunities for students to develop and apply scientific ideas. As a result of this part of the workshop, the SECEF team learned ways to extend such approaches throughout the whole workbook.

At the end, participants generated action plans within their working groups. SECEF members proposed to use the Benchmarks both to review existing educational products and to design future products. It was the consensus among participants that "retro-fitting" finished products to align them with standards is arduous at best. It is far preferable to understand the standards and apply them in the design process. The SECEF team also proposed to send a briefing on this fruitful training session to the NASA OSS Ecosystem at large.

The AAAS Benchmarks will certainly have a significant positive impact on the evaluation and development of NASA education materials in the future.

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