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EdSource Covers OpenSciEd In California

August 12, 2019

Nationwide project provides free science materials to meet California’s new standards

By: Sydney Johnson

While California students began taking a new statewide science test this past spring, school districts were still struggling to get teaching materials aligned to the state’s new science standards into classrooms.

A new nationwide effort is trying to speed up that process by offering free, open source science materials to teachers and schools.

In 2017, philanthropists, state leaders and curriculum writers formed OpenSciEd to get materials to teachers implementing the Next Generation Science Standards, new academic standards that emphasize hands-on projects and integrate several scientific disciplines.

California adopted the new standards in 2013 and this past spring began administering a new state science test. But it wasn’t until last November that the State Board of Education approved a list of recommended textbooks and materials aligned to the new standards for kindergarten through 8th grade.

As a result, some students continue to learn from old textbooks and teaching styles.

“Districts couldn’t adopt materials before November because publishers weren’t ready for anyone to adopt. Their materials were being made for the state review first,” said Shawna Metcalf, president of the California Science Teachers Association.

This month, OpenSciEd plans to release its first set of materials, in the form of PDFs and Google Docs, for grades 6, 7 and 8. The release will include the first of six instructional units for the different grade levels, which will each cover about six weeks worth of materials for both teachers and students.

Each unit includes videos, slide decks, student handouts and assessments, as well as instructions for hands-on activities. The plan is to release more units every six months until there is a three-year middle school curriculum by the winter of 2022.

California, 18 other states and the District of Columbia have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. As districts implement the new standards, the high price of traditional textbooks can be an obstacle. That’s a major way in which the nonprofit OpenSciEd, with its open source model, wants to set itself apart.

“Some districts are looking at OpenSciEd saying ‘We don’t have to spend a million dollars,’” said Phillip Lafontaine, a regional director with K-12 Alliance at WestEd and project director for OpenSciEd in California. “That’s the whole point of open source materials.”

OpenSciEd materials were piloted in schools around the country last fall, including in 25 California classrooms. In the spring, the curriculum developers solicited feedback from the teachers and state leaders to make adjustments, such as clarifying assessment strategies.

The materials also received external review and approval by Achieve, an education nonprofit that helped develop the new science standards. Achieve gave two of the units the highest score available on its rubric for science units designed for the Next Generation Science Standards.

One potential challenge OpenSciEd faces in California is that it is not on the state’s list of approved science materials, which many districts will turn to as they begin their curriculum adoption process. Local education agencies are not required to choose state-adopted materials, so teachers and schools can still download and supplement their science lessons with OpenSciEd units as they roll out.

But because the full curriculum won’t be available until 2022 and the state’s textbook adoption process isn’t scheduled to begin again for another six years, OpenSciEd won’t appear on the state-approved list anytime soon.

The consortium working on OpenSciEd includes developers from BSCS Science Learning, a nonprofit that creates curriculum materials and conducts research, Boston College, Northwestern University, UT Austin and Digital Promise, a nonprofit authorized by Congress to promote innovation in education.

Gilly Ryan, a 6th-grade teacher at Pride Academy in the Santee School District near San Diego…

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