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National, State, and Local Standards (BSCS, 2008)

Another concern for teachers is the content taught to students. To help guide the curriculum, the voluntary National Science Education Standards were released in 1996. Some school systems follow these national standards, while others use state or district standards. Standards help improve science education by providing guidance on content and assessment in a particular area.

To view the standards and a description of how they were prepared, see National Science Education Standards External Web Site Policy (NRC 1996).

Before making a decision about what you plan to do in the classroom, determine which set of standards teachers in your area use. In most places these standards are available online. Read through them and determine how your ideas fit into the curriculum presented there. This is another topic that should be discussed with your collaborating teacher, as she may have other plans for a particular topic, or may choose to fit your ideas into a different area. Teachers are obligated to teach all the standards listed and should be able to explain how any given lesson plan fits the standards, so it is important to clearly define the goals of your participation beforehand.

Should you choose, instead, to participate in systemic changes to science education (changes throughout a district, a state, or the country), you will find that the standards are equally important. Obtain a copy and evaluate what is already in place. Are there items that you feel should no longer be taught or that should be included? Consider your justification for any standard you feel is out of place. Be aware, however, that even if you find a standard that is in scientific error, the district may have to clear its changes with the state department of education—a time-consuming process. Fortunately, in most cases, the standards provide a good baseline and are only slightly revised from time to time.

By working closely with teachers and other collaborators, you will find that you each contribute to an idea to make it a success. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. By considering factors in today’s education system and working closely with those involved with it, you will be able to have a positive and rewarding experience.

An outstanding resource that will help you better understand what science standards are and are not and how they integrate with classroom activities is "Misconceptions Scientists Often Have about the National Science Education Standards" External Web Site Policy (Morrow, 2000). Reading this will help you understand the constraints under which teachers work and how science standards can influence educator activities both in and outside the classroom. Understanding the role of science standards in modern education is key to developing a successful partnership.

For more on science education standards, see also reports by the National Research Council (2007, 2008) and Hollweg and Hill (2003).

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