UW-Madison: Bioenergy center supports new science education framework


CONTACT: John Greenler, (608) 890-2444,
[email protected]; Joyce Parker, (517) 884-3469,
[email protected]

MADISON – Teachers aiming to meet new federal standards for science education have a new resource at the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC).

The center has developed a report to help K-12 teachers manage a new federal framework that emphasizes crosscutting concepts and integrates engineering into science classrooms.

“From the inception of education and outreach materials and professional development in GLBRC, one of the greatest values of the program has been the opportunity to develop materials in direct association with the center’s research,” says John Greenler, the center’s education and outreach director.

The center’s work will support educators implementing the National Research Council’s (NRC) “Framework for K-12 Science Education.” That framework forms the basis for the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) scheduled for release in 2013.

“The framework places new demands on teachers, and they will need professional development and new curricula to meet those demands,” says Joyce Parker, a GLBRC education and outreach team member and a professor of geological sciences and teacher education at Michigan State University. “GLBRC is offering both of those to teachers.”

The framework takes an innovative approach to science education standards by identifying student performance expectations in three dimensions: science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts and core ideas. It also emphasizes covering fewer key ideas in more depth, including current societal issues.

“I see the framework as articulating a hole that has been present in all previous national standards: they did not integrate powerful ways of thinking scientifically with the scientific knowledge students were expected to learn,” says Parker. “I think we are finally getting there.”

Established by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2007, the GLBRC conducts the basic research that generates technology to convert non-food, or cellulosic, plant biomass to biofuels. The center offers a variety of materials to support science education, including classroom activity packages and programs.

To help educators adapt their teaching methods in light of the framework, the report highlights activities and programs developed in parallel with the center’s biofuel research, which itself exemplifies the framework’s key dimensions of crosscutting concepts and science and engineering practices.

“Because the nature of GLBRC work is interdisciplinary and focused on both basic research and application, we really touch on the integration of science and engineering ways of knowing-they are inextricable for what we are trying to do as a center,” says Greenler.

Emily Miller, a bilingual resources educator at Hawthorne Elementary School in Madison and a member of the NGSS writing team, thinks the GLBRC resources could help bring the new framework into diverse classrooms nationwide.

“It’s exciting to see how GLBRC is already beginning to link the standards to classroom implementation,” says Miller. “By improving science education for all students, we will make significant gains toward leveling the playing field for under-served students. This effort could result in more underserved students becoming inspired to choose paths in science.”

Due to the complex and constantly changing nature of science, obtaining appropriate teaching materials can be challenging for educators. The report will help teachers find quality resources that also support the more rigorous and varied scientific experiences envisioned in the framework.

“I am continually looking for more educational opportunities to learn science so I can be a more effective science teacher,” says Miller. “Few elementary teachers have a lot of background in science, so we will all need some serious professional development if we are going to be ready for these new standards.”

Parker agrees.

“A lot is being asked of teachers these days,” she says. “I am hoping that rather than focusing on new demands, the report communicates to educators that this is a great opportunity, and that this is something we can do.”

The report, “Supporting the NRC Framework: Educator Resources for K-12 Science Education,” and the resources it cites can be viewed and downloaded here: http://go.wisc.edu/0761ou

Following the release of the Next Generation Science Standards, more information will be added to the website on how educators can align specific GLBRC education materials with the standards in their teaching.