While teachers often experience the same year or course again and again, students and their families can really see how students change over the years in school. Families can see that what students learn each year builds on what has come before.
But for that to happen efficiently and effectively, the curriculum must be designed so that it builds coherently. Learning progressions help educators see a student’s advancement.
A learning progression is an articulation of the steps a student might go through as they work toward mastery of a process or concept. As the Framework for K-12 Science Education points out, “If mastery of a core idea in a science discipline is the ultimate educational destination, then well-designed learning progressions provide a map of the routes that can be taken to reach that destination.”
In other words, if a progression is successfully followed, what kids learn in first grade should set the stage for what they learn later in elementary school, what students learn in middle school should build upon what they learn in elementary school, and so on.
Unfortunately, our system isn’t always coherent. Therefore, it’s essential that we find ways to make science instruction more coherent. Here are three tips for improving science literacy:
Ideas should never be learned in isolation. This is where The NSTA Atlas of the Three Dimensions comes in. Think of it as a user-friendly guide to understanding how ideas build on one other and relate to each other over a K-12 education. The 62 maps in the NSTA Atlas organize all the elements from the standards on a particular topic (e.g., modeling, patterns, or definitions of energy) on a single page. The elements from grades K-2 are at the bottom of the page, and those from grades 9-12 are at the top. Arrows connect elements to indicate how ideas in a particular topic build on each other and how elements in different topics connect to one another.
Ted Willard is a Senior Subject Matter Expert in Science for Discovery Education where he develops three-dimensional, phenomenom-based science curricula. He is the author of The NSTA Atlas of the Three Dimensions (NSTA Press, 2020) and editor of The NSTA Quick-Reference Guide to the NGSS (NSTA Press, 2014). At the NSTA National Conference for Science Education in Houston, Texas from March 31 to April 2, 2022, Ted led sessions on mapping science standards and using science and engineering practices.