We believe that the scientifically literate person is one who is aware that science, mathematics, and technology are interdependent human enterprises with strengths and limitations; understands key concepts and principles of science; is familiar with the natural world and recognizes both its diversity and unity; and uses scientific knowledge and scientific ways of thinking for individual and social purposes.
Science for All Americans, 1990
The need for scientific literacy in today's increasingly technological world, for fundamental reforms in how science is taught, and for well-validated models that districts might emulate are by now well known and documented. Expressions of concern from business leaders, scientists, and educators have led to national, state, and local initiatives. The Iowa Core Curriculum rose from those concerns. It has been a two-decade process in which the Department of Education initiated conversations and produced a body of work that laid the groundwork for this effort. Each of those early efforts led us closer to the design that would produce the clearest picture and become the most useful. This committee used both national and state level documents in this process. The final standards are drawn from the respected work of the National Research Council's (NRC) National Science Education Standards (NSES). The Iowa Core Curriculum is a common set of expectations designed to clarify and raise expectations for all students. It is a tool for Iowa educators to use to assure that essential subject matter is being taught and essential knowledge and skills are being learned.
As the amount of scientific knowledge expands, the need for ALL students to have a deep understanding of essential concepts increases. Technological advances have made information more readily available and decreased the need to memorize vocabulary and formulas. The scientific community agrees that we should teach fewer concepts at greater depth. The Iowa Core Curriculum of essential concepts and abilities in Science is a rich, yet manageable, set that will give each district a comprehensive model to evaluate local curricula. It moves beyond, as stated in the research report, Taking Science to School (National Research Council, The National Academies. Washington, D.C. 2007) "a focus on the dichotomy between either content knowledge or process skills because content and process are inextricably linked in science. Students who are proficient in science:
- Know, use, and interpret scientific explanations of the natural world;
- Generate and evaluate scientific evidence and explanations;
- Understand the nature and development of scientific knowledge; and
- Participate productively in scientific practices and discourse.
These strands of proficiency represent learning goals for students as well as a broad framework for curriculum design. They address the knowledge and reasoning skills that students must acquire to be proficient in science and, ultimately, able to participate in society as educated citizens."
The Iowa Core Curriculum for Science reflects the belief that ALL students should experience science through a curriculum that is rigorous, relevant, global in its perspective, collaborative in nature, and connected by strong visible links to other areas of study. This document follows the format and content of NSES in which there are eight categories of standards. Four of the categories ù Science as Inquiry, Physical Science, Earth and Space Science, and Life Science ù are content specific, while the remaining categories ù Science and Technology, Science in Personal and Social Perspectives, and the History and Nature of Science ù address the application of knowledge. These remaining standards sets call for students to develop abilities to identify and state a problem, design, implement and evaluate a solution, and they complement the abilities developed in the Science as Inquiry Standards. They also help students develop decision-making skills and understand that science reflects its history and is an ongoing, changing enterprise. As such, these standards should be integrated throughout the four content specific categories stated above. These sets include the following at the 9—12 level: Science and Technology ù abilities of technological design, and understanding about science and technology; Science in Personal and Social Perspectives ù personal and community health, population growth, natural resources, environmental quality, natural and human-induced hazards, and science and technology in local, national, and global changes; History and Nature of Science ù science as a human endeavor, nature of scientific knowledge, and historical perspectives (see appendix). Science as Inquiry and the application standards from the NSES are integrated into the knowledge base by design. The content category of Unifying Concepts and Processes complements the other standards. The concepts and procedures in this category provide students with productive and insightful ways of thinking about and integrating basic ideas that explain the natural and designed world (see appendix for details). These concepts and processes include:
- Systems, order, and organization
- Evidence, models, and explanation
- Constancy, change, and measurement
- Evolution and equilibrium
- Form and function
Science is more than a body of knowledge. It is a way of thinking and a way of investigating. Students must have the opportunity to examine the impact science has had, and will continue to have, on the environment and society. These opportunities are the focus of the integrated standards.
The Iowa Core Curriculum for Science emphasizes student inquiry. The depth of understanding required of our students is not possible with lectures, readings, cookbook labs, and plug-and-chug problem solving. Students must be actively investigating: designing experiments, observing, questioning, exploring, making and testing hypotheses, making and comparing predictions, evaluating data, and communicating and defending conclusions. A district's science curriculum cannot align to the Iowa Core Curriculum for Science without including inquiry as a guaranteed and viable, testable component in every science course. The science instruction should be engaging and relevant for the students. Strong connections between the lessons and the students' daily lives must be made. This core curriculum reflects high standards of science achievement for ALL students and not just those who have traditionally succeeded in science classes. The challenge is to create an educational system that connects students to the scientific world. The broad range of understandings and skills possessed by students when they enter 9th grade will require a system that is clearly articulated and masterfully implemented from kindergarten through grade 12. Teachers will need support and time to prepare for this challenge. This is a first bold step toward a vision of scientific literacy for all.