The content standards presented in this chapter outline what students should know, understand, and be able to do in natural science. The content standards are a complete set of outcomes for students; they do not prescribe a curriculum. These standards were designed and developed as one component of the comprehensive vision of science education presented in the National Science Education Standards and will be most effective when used in conjunction with all of the standards described in this book. Furthermore, implementation of the content standards cannot be successful if only a subset of the content standards is used (such as implementing only the subject matter standards for physical, life, and earth science).
The eight categories of content standards are:
- Unifying concepts and processes in science.
- Science as inquiry.
- Physical science.
- Life science.
- Earth and space science.
- Science and technology.
- Science in personal and social perspectives.
- History and nature of science.
The standard for unifying concepts and processes is presented for grades K-12, because the understanding and abilities associated with major conceptual and procedural schemes need to be developed over an entire education, and the unifying concepts and processes transcend disciplinary boundaries. The next seven categories are clustered for grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12. Those clusters were selected based on a combination of factors, including cognitive development theory, the classroom experience of teachers, organization of schools, and the frameworks of other disciplinary-based standards. References for additional reading for all the content standards are presented at the end of Chapter 6.
The sequence of the seven grade-level content standards is not arbitrary: Each standard subsumes the knowledge and skills of other standards. Students’ understandings and abilities are grounded in the experience of inquiry, and inquiry is the foundation for the development of understandings and abilities of the other content standards. The personal and social aspects of science are emphasized increasingly in the progression from science as inquiry standards to the history and nature of science standards. Students need solid knowledge and understanding in physical, life, and earth and space science if they are to apply science.
Multidisciplinary perspectives also increase from the subject-matter standards to the standard on the history and nature of science, providing many opportunities for integrated approaches to science teaching.
1. Unifying Concepts and Processes Standard:
Conceptual and procedural schemes unify science disciplines and provide students with powerful ideas to help them understand the natural world. Because of the underlying principles embodied in this standard, the understandings and abilities described here are repeated in the other content standards. Unifying concepts and processes include:
- Systems, order, and organization.
- Evidence, models, and explanation.
- Change, constancy, and measurement.
- Evolution and equilibrium.
- Form and function.
This standard describes some of the integrative schemes that can bring together students’ many experiences in science education across grades K-12. The unifying concepts and processes standard can be the focus of instruction at any grade level but should always be closely linked to outcomes aligned with other content standards.
Early grades, instruction should establish the meaning and use of unifying concepts and processes-for example, what it means to measure and how to use measurement tools. At the upper grades, the standard should facilitate and enhance the learning of scientific concepts and principles by providing students with a big picture of scientific ideas-for example, how measurement is important in all scientific endeavors.
2. Science as Inquiry Standards:
In the vision presented by the Standards, inquiry is a step beyond ”science as a process,” in which students learn skills, such as observation, inference, and experimentation. The new vision includes the “processes of science” and requires that students combine processes and scientific knowledge as they use scientific reasoning and critical thinking to develop their understanding of science. Engaging students in inquiry helps students develop
- Understanding of scientific concepts.
- An appreciation of “how we know” what we know in science.
- Understanding of the nature of science.
- Skills necessary to become independent inquirers about the natural world.
- The dispositions to use the skills, abilities, and attitudes associated with science.