Even the most dedicated supporter of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning today would not be faulted for some level of confusion over the many educational standards for science that seem to be in various stages of development or review. There is considerable discussion lately, for example, about the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), not to be confused with the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects.
NGSS aims to establish common standards for U.S. K–12 science education (based in part on comparisons of 10 countries whose students have performed well on international assessments). These standards do not replace, but rather complement, the Common Core Standards, which are designed to help students learn to read, write, speak, listen, and use language effectively in various disciplines, including science. In short, NGSS will prepare a generation for science understanding, even as the Common Core Standards provide the literacy skills required for college and career readiness in science-related disciplines.
The good news is that these measures appear, in their own ways, to be directed toward a common goal of building capacities for science understanding and use. This is particularly good news for our field because science centers and museums are well positioned to meet the objectives and orientations of both sets of standards. NGSS emphasizes the mastery of scientific practices, core ideas, and crosscutting concepts, which are already reflected well in our institutions’ many interwoven themes, learning strategies, and approaches to teacher training. Moreover, our expressive techniques—conveying science through stories, theater, and other communication tools—help strengthen the literacy skills embodied in the Common Core Standards. In short, while these science education–related standards are not, themselves, interchangeable, our field offers meaningful programs that support the standards set forth in both cases.
Illustrating this point, ASTC has recently joined with the National Writing Project (NWP) in a new (U.S.) National Science Foundation–supported initiative that will integrate science and literacy: Building Informal Science Education and Literacy Partnerships (award number AISL-1224161). Ten partnerships are being established nationwide to create new programs that merge science and writing, reaching a diverse range of youth and educators. These programs will result in an infusion of literacy practices into informal science learning environments, while introducing non-science teachers to more STEM-rich learning experiences. The practices that will emerge from these programs will have universal application, and ASTC looks forward to disseminating the lessons learned.