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EdReports recognizes Colorado Springs science program creator with ‘all-green’ ratings

June 24, 2023

By: Nick Sullivan, The Gazette

A Colorado Springs-based national textbook organization received a first-of-a-kind accolade for its newly released biology program.

Curriculum developed by BSCS Science Learning, a center for research and development in science education, is the first and only high school science program to receive all-green ratings from nonprofit instructional reviewer EdReports. The ratings indicate BSCS meets EdReports’ highest quality standards across the board in three areas: coherence and scope, usability and alignment to the Next Generation Science Standards and a curriculum standard adopted by 20 states and the District of Columbia.

“Districts and states are reviewing curriculum materials more carefully than I think they did historically. A lot of schools and districts don’t have the resources to conduct these thorough reviews themselves, so they rely on EdReports and other organizations to do so,” BSCS Executive Director Daniel Edelson said. “EdReports is an acknowledgement that we succeeded in what we set out to do. … It’s going to be very powerful in getting these materials into the hands of teachers and students.”

The program, titled BSCS Biology: Understanding for Life, marks a shift from the traditional teaching approach, said instructional material developers Cindy Gay and Lindsey Mohan.

Rather than framing lessons around teacher lectures and memorization, BSCS begins each unit by investigating a current real-world phenomenon. Why, for example, do antibiotics sometimes not work in treating infections?

Students ask questions and lead the discussion on why these sorts of events occur, and through the course of investigation they discover concepts of natural selection at play in bacteria. Students learn not just the words and definitions attached to biology, but also how to talk about these concepts and apply them to their daily lives.

“We move away from a culture of one right answer,” said Gay, BSCS senior science educator. “If you were a really good student in a traditional classroom, and you were used to the teacher telling what you needed to know, and you could memorize and spit it back, and suddenly the teacher’s not giving you the answer anymore, and you’re having to figure out and revise your thinking, that could potentially be really uncomfortable for you.”

“After formal schooling, you’re never going to be asked to read a textbook and memorize definitions again. That’s not a useful skill to have in your life,” added Mohan, the project director for the program’s development. “But you are going to need to have conversations with your doctor. You are going to be prescribed antibiotics, and you are going to need to understand how and why you need to take those antibiotics.”

The program pulled input from 60 experts across a range of specialties, from educators to doctors to experts on inclusive language and imagery. BSCS began field testing its work in the spring of 2020, when COVID threw a wrench into its collaborative and discussion-based method by forcing classes online.

Still, the developers found enough teachers, schools and districts interested in testing out their new program and pushed forward. Student voice was critical, too, as they provided feedback as to which of their key questions were left unanswered and which real-world examples most caught their eye.

Engaging biology courses are critical for all students regardless of their post-secondary aspirations, Edelson said. Traditional science education has failed in that it focused primarily on preparing students for college and careers while undervaluing its use in their personal lives. BSCS considers both, he said.

“We are facing challenges in our society that require scientific understanding, and we have a lot of misinformation circulating currently,” Edelson said. “People need to be informed both for decisions they make in their personal lives and decisions they make in their civic lives.”

Dani Booth, a science teacher who teaches emerging bilinguals at Colorado’s Steamboat High School, said the program’s accessible approach to contemporary issues embeds literacy strategies for students who are learning English as a secondary language and those who read below their grade level. Her students are communicating about school topics in ways she has never seen before, she said, and synthesizing information in other subjects.

“On this little planet, our problems are increasingly complex. Our resources are finite, and the challenges we face are getting bigger and bigger all the time, and we often seem more and more divided about solving these problems and making decisions. The green light from EdReports confirms the path this program is taking in order to give students the skills and understanding they need to tackle these solutions,” Gay said. “It gives me huge hope for the future of these problems.”