To address such questions, various groups of scientists, mathematicians, educators, and others have been working to define educational expectations for the future. Methods of instruction are under scrutiny, standards and curriculum frameworks are emerging and a new picture of instruction is coming into focus. Successful classrooms will be based on student cooperation and interaction - communities of learners rather than groups of passive recipients of information and facts. Teachers will promote early exploration of higher level concepts and content will be selected to allow in-depth exploration of key ideas. Learning will be defined as a set of intellectual tools rather than an accumulation of data and procedures.
Reform in science instruction has taken a similar path. Project 2061, a diverse group of teachers, administrators, scientists, mathematicians, historians, engineers, and learning specialists gathered by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has produced two books (Science for all Americans, 1989, and Benchmarks for Science Literacy, 1993) that present expectations for general science understanding and the specific skills students must master to achieve it. In Science for All Americans, the authors note: "...schools do not need to be asked to teach more and more content, but rather to focus on what is essential to scientific literacy and teach it more effectively." The Benchmarks provide some practical ways of determining and teaching that essential content.
These changes are not easy. Teachers may find it difficult to place the responsibility for learning in the hands of students. Using the learner's, rather than the teacher's, knowledge is an unsettling, and for some, counterintuitive idea. However, we need only think about the influence of the outside world—television, computers, the marketplace—to realize that no one comes to the classroom empty of experience and knowledge, be it formal or informal. Students can take their current conceptions and build on them with new experiences from the classroom to produce a powerful and lasting understanding.
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