Implementing Hands-on Programs
The National Science Foundation has arguably done more to improve K-12 science, mathematics and technology education in the United States than any other sponsoring agency. Starting decades ago, the NSF funded the development of large-scale programs that transformed the curriculum from didactic content presentations to laboratory-centered student inquiry. The programs were created through comprehensive research and development processes, were piloted and field tested extensively with diverse student populations, and published commercially for wide-scale implementation.
High school programs that originated through NSF funding include three approaches to biology developed by the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study-BSCS Biology: A Human Approach and BSCS Biology: An Ecological Approach (both from Kendall/Hunt Publishing, www.kendallhunt.com), and BSCS Biology: A Molecular Approach (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, www.glencoe.com). At the elementary school level, programs with NSF roots include Science and Technology for Children-STC (Carolina Biological Supply, www.carolina.com), Full Option Science Systems-FOSS (Delta Education, www.delta-education.com), and Growing with Mathematics (Wright Group, www.wrightgroup.com). Furthermore, what we learned about hands-on teaching and learning through the NSF projects influenced the entire K-12 curriculum profoundly, including most of the math and science textbook series on the market.
GETTING THE WORD OUT However, the success of any new program in schools is dependent on the success of its dissemination and implementation efforts, so the NSF also supported a variety of development activities for such purposes. These included regional information workshops, leadership programs, newsletters, national consultant networks, the distribution of staff development materials, the establishment of demonstration classrooms, and even study visits to work with curriculum developers. In this regard, my teacher education colleagues and I visited major project centers including the Educational Development Center in Massachusetts, the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study in Colorado, the Lawrence Hall of Science in California, and the Engineering Concepts Curriculum Project in New York. As a result of these experiences, we received our own NSF grant to implement science and math curriculum programs in 19 Connecticut school systems.
NEW MODELS FOR A NEW ERA But the national priorities for such activities have changed significantly-funded travel opportunities are few and far between-and online technology has also changed the nature of curriculum dissemination and implementation. For example, the NSF now supports eight curriculum implementation centers in K-12 science and math (see sidebar at left) and each uses Web resources to improve and support education reform nationwide. These include online instructional materials, professional development resources, technical assistance, research reports, evaluation rubrics, descriptions of exemplary programs and curriculum standards from professional organizations including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (www.nctm.org) and the National Science Teachers Association (www.nsta.org). The sites will help your staff find out about innovative math and science programs, understand how inquiry-oriented teaching and learning improve student achievement and attitudes, build community support for inquiry-centered curriculum options, develop effective classroom management techniques, and evaluate results.