Sunday, November 4, 2012

Children's Books and Science Standards

"When the Next Generation Science Standards are released, what will that mean for nonfiction children's books?" This is really the million dollar question being asked by editors across the industry. For publishers, the release is an opportunity to appeal to librarians, teachers, and curriculum developers. Really, it is an opportunity to make books more appealing to consumers. Sure, there are plenty of opinions on this topic, but the following comes from a proven STEM educator.

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are really the result of a document put out by the National Academies of Sciences called "A Framework for K-12 Science Education." In it, the authors describe a new way of teaching science courses using a combination of three dimensions: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas. While the ideas in the framework are not completely new--they are a combination of years of reports and research--they are new in their elegant presentation. Using the framework, the NGSS are being put together through the leadership of the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve.

By "practices" the document generally refers to students actually "doing" science, where science is more about generating knowledge rather than absorbing it via lectures or textbooks. This goes beyond hands-on labs, and taps into the heart of science: inquiry, investigation, gathering evidence, analyzing evidence, developing conclusions, sharing knowledge. "Crosscutting concepts" refer to the scientific truths that are applicable across most fields, such as the relationships between matter and energy, structure and function, and stability and change. Last, but not least, are the "core ideas" that pertain to each specific field of science, be it physics, chemistry, biology, etc.

The key for publishers will be finding a way to incorporate the "practice" of science. Recently, I read several nonfiction science books written for girls ages 9 to 12. They were part of a series that presented girls with fun, interesting science experiments. One book contained ten "biology" experiment, another ten "chemistry" experiments, and so on. The experiments were cool and designed to appeal to young girls. In fact, even I wanted to try some of the ideas. There was just one problem (and it had nothing to do with me not being a girl): the era of these kinds of scripted science labs is ending. Ideally, the NGSS will bring it to a near close.

While some may think incorporating science practices in children's books will be difficult, it does not necessarily have to be. With a few leading questions, books can help children begin to think like scientists, particularly in pushing them to ask more questions, develop experiment variants of their own, analyze evidence, and share results. The scripted labs that I read could have included leading statements: "what would happen if..." or "how would you get this result:..." Also, better online content can be developed where children contribute their variants, evidence, and thoughts. This would create truer science engagement and possibly even collaboration. These are the kind of things that would appeal to me as a science educator and curriculum developer.

Yes, there is more to this conversation than can be covered by a single blog posting, but the idea has been presented. The "Framework for K-12 Science Education" did a very good thing for the field, and hopefully, the release of the NGSS will do the same. Many are seeing it as a game changer, and it will be. Most likely, it will be a game changer for the nonfiction children's book industry, as well. This does not need to be a reason to panic, but rather to put a little more thought into getting children to engage in science. The important thing is to remember that science is more than just following a set of pre-scripted directions; it is about contributing to a living network of ideas.

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