Science Education

AAAS worked to ensure that talent and interest in scientific endeavors are always nurtured,
and to improve science education for all students.

PROJECT 2061: IMPROVING SCIENCE LITERACY

Through its long-term science-education initiative Project 2061, AAAS carries out research
and development designed to improve the quality of K–12 science curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Collaborating with other organizations devoted to science education, Project 2061 promotes an approach to learning in which students build their scientific knowledge by being actively engaged in the kinds of
activities that scientists use every day to answer questions about the world.

Science for All Americans

As states adopted the Common Core for math and English and the NextGeneration Science Standards (NGSS), AAAS was celebrating the 25th anniversary of a book that first articulated what Americans should know about science, mathematics, and technology.

Science for All Americans, a publication of AAAS’s Project 2061, helped introduce the concept of science literacy and set education standards for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Science for All Americans took a new position on science literacy,” said Jo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, which today continues to help teachers implement science-education reforms, many of which were influenced by Science for All Americans. “Everyone needs some level of science knowledge and habits of mind so that when reading about a scientific report in the newspaper, for example, one would think about it in a more critical way.”

Page 30 picture of kidsJo Ellen Roseman, director of Project 2061, and George de Boer, associate director, with a copy of Science for All Americans, a landmark book that continues to influence science-education reform, a quarter-century after it defined the concept of science literacy. [AAAS/CARLA SCHAFFER]

Test Items for English-Language Learners

Project 2061 began a study in 2014 of whether students learning English score lower on standardized science tests because of the language complexity of test questions.

Working with educational research center WestEd, Project 2061 received a grant from the National Science Foundation to study the linguistic and cognitive complexity of middle-school test questions in an extensive AAAS database. The next step was to examine whether there was a correlation between the questions’ linguistic complexity and how well English-language learners answer them.

This work is considered especially important as the number of English learners grows in the United States, and as Common Core and NGSS, developed by a consortium of 26 states and science education organizations including AAAS, are adopted. The new educational norms emphasize written and oral communication in models and engineering solutions, and in obtaining and evaluating scientific evidence. According to George DeBoer, principal investigator for the grant and deputy director of Project 2061, the new standards also require new kinds of test items, like the ones in the AAAS database that ask students to “go beyond facts to applying appropriate scientific principles.” Understanding how items like this work with English learners is critical.

“There is now greater awareness that increasing reliance on test scores to make high-stakes decisions about students may not be so appropriate in the context of an increasingly diverse student population,” said grant co-principal investigator Sharon Nelson-Barber, WestEd’s director of language, culture, and eco-literacy.

In the grant’s third year, investigators will apply what they have learned to rewrite some of the test questions to see if the changes improve English learners’ performance.

Teachers Test New Middle-School Curriculum

AAAS released field-test results of a new middle-school science curriculum developed by Project 2061, saying the new six-week unit improved students’ ability to use evidence and science principles to correctly explain everyday phenomena involving chemical reactions from the rusting of a nail, to the growth of a human baby.

The Toward High School Biology curriculum, which integrates chemistry and biology, significantly improved students’ understanding of key science concepts. In an earlier test, seven middle-school teachers were able to boost their students’ test scores, compared with students in a control group who used their school district’s usual curriculum.

Project 2061 is working with the curriculum study group BSCS in Colorado Springs, supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Evaluating Computer-Based Testing

Although computer-based science testing offers significant advantages, testers should be sure that students are familiar with the testing technology being used in order for it to be an effective measure of their knowledge, said a study organized by AAAS and WestEd educational research center.

As online testing becomes more popular—particularly for such subjects as biology, where animations of organisms interacting let students manipulate data and design experiments—researchers pointed out that students in the study at first had difficulty with the most interactive and dynamic versions of tests. While those versions enabled testing of more complex reasoning skills, a desired goal, researchers are calling for pre-assessment tutorials to make sure the students are not put at a disadvantage.

Page 30 picture of kidsAs computer-enhanced science testing has become more popular, a new study, organized by AAAS and WestEd, a California-based research and development agency, confirmed the advantages of interactive, online science testing while also finding a number of areas where caution may be warranted. As an example of an interactive online science test item, this screen prompts students to click the names of organisms in a mountain lake.

Workshops for Educators

Project 2061 offered five practical, hands-on educator workshops in 2014. Reaching 120 educators working across a spectrum from classroom teaching to curriculum development, the sessions focused on two important and timely topics.

Project 2061’s assessment workshops focused on the project’s approach to developing valid science assessments aligned to the learning goals specified in the AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy and the new NGSS. It offered an introduction to the AAAS Science Assessment website, which includes national data on student performance and common student misconceptions about science, as well as a create-and-take online test tool.

Project 2061 also offered workshops to help K–12 educators begin to understand and implement the NGSS using Project 2061 tools and resources. For example, participants used the project’s new Toward High School Biology unit to learn about what it takes to align curriculum to NGSS.

EDUCATION, OUTREACH, AND CAREERS

Improving education and opportunities for students and professionals in the sciences is a primary goal
of AAAS, both for the sake of the individuals who benefit personally, and for society, which needs a
science-literate citizenry, as well as a well-trained science and technology workforce. The Education and
Human Resources team at AAAS is working to ensure that the STEM workforce leverages society’s full
spectrum of potential talent, by reaching out to girls, women, and underrepresented groups.

AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors

In a partnership with The Lemelson Foundation, AAAS has developed a program to promote invention, invention education, and the mechanisms for driving new ideas to the market. The program selects inventors to promote a message to key audiences that invention creates new jobs, strengthens the economy, and improves lives.

“Throughout the world, we face substantial challenges that can only be effectively addressed if creative minds invent the products that will meet those challenges,” said Carol Dahl, executive director of the The Lemelson Foundation. “We hope to recognize and equip today’s great inventors.”

The 2014 ambassadors hold about 150 patents collectively, for inventions in such areas as health, neuroscience, food safety, and nanotechnology.

Page 30 picture of kidsAAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors described their “stories of invention” at AAAS. [AAAS]

Improving Undergrad STEM Education

Less than 40 percent of U.S. students who enter college intending to major in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) earn a degree in one of those fields.

According to a 2014 report by a STEM education reform coalition including AAAS, faculty, campus leaders, and funding organizations need to work together now to incorporate proven STEM teaching methods “to make effective practice the norm rather than the exception.” According to a report from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, reasons for college-level STEM attrition include “uninspiring” introductory courses and an unwelcoming atmosphere from faculty.

“Evidence is growing every day on how active engagement by faculty in the teaching and learning process makes a difference to student success in the classroom, especially for students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds,” said Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources programs at AAAS.

Classify It! Mobile App

Starting with 70 living things—including a polar bear, broccoli, and an amoeba—a new mobile app asks children which of the organisms fit into groups such as those that lay eggs, build nests, or use sunlight to make their own food.

Science NetLinks, a K–12 STEM education program produced by AAAS and funded by the Verizon Foundation, created the app, which is targeted at children in fourth through eighth grades. Just one day after its release, Apple selected it as a “Best New App.”

“The ability to group organisms in multiple ways based on observed similarities and differences is one of the building blocks of biology and life science education,” said Suzanne Thurston, AAAS project director. “Classify It! teaches kids about the diversity of life through engaging game play.”

Mass Media Fellowships
Hit 40

The AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship program celebrated 40 years of sending science- and engineering-oriented students into newsrooms in 2014, while for the very first time placing fellows at Spanish-language media outlets. Also in 2014, the Minority Science Writers Internship at Science magazine celebrated ten years.

Between 1974 and 2014, AAAS placed 620 Mass Media Fellows. Many went on to distinguished careers in journalism and science communication. Others continued in science, becoming researchers and using their media skills to communicate about their work.

In the preliminary version of a survey of alumni conducted by Project Director Dione Rossiter, 76 percent of respondents said that the fellowship program was “extremely” or “very” important to their success, and 37 percent said it completely changed their careers.

Page 30 picture of kidsAna Aceves was one of two AAAS Mass Media Science and Engineering Fellows to be placed at a Spanish-language media outlet, a first for the program, which dates to 1974. [AAAS/DIONE ROSSITER]

Entry Point! Internships Support Careers

Twenty-one interns worked in government and academia in 2014 through the Entry Point! summer research fellowship program for students with disabilities, including Joseph Neiman, an aspiring physician interested in how health services are delivered.

Paired with a mentor at the Robert D. and Patricia E. Kern Center for the Science of Health Care Delivery at Mayo Clinic, Neiman participated in a project on the FDA’s drug approval process and a study about shared decision-making between patients and doctors. He also worked on a paper about total knee replacement, for which he was given credit as first author.

The fellowship “really confirmed that this is the field I want to be in,” Neiman said.

Entry Point! began in 1996, recruiting students with disabilities who are studying science, engineering, mathematics, computer science, and some fields of business. The program’s partners have included NASA, IBM, Lockheed Martin, Dow Chemical, Merck, Ball Aerospace, and others.

L’Oréal USA and Women in Science

Five women won L’Oréal USA For Women in Science Fellowships in 2014—for research into the diagnosis of infections in newborns, mass spectrometry diagnosis of cancer, antibiotic properties of Amazonian dart frogs, new ways to get DNA into a cell for gene therapy, and the formation of the galaxy. In their spare time, the winners all work with younger women and girls interested in science.

Managed by AAAS, the awards offered a $60,000 grant for post-doctoral research to each winner. Scientists in the candidates’ respective fields evaluated their award applications according to four key criteria.