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Design Process and the new
Standards for Science Education

I recommend first reading the summary` of this page.
Developing the new Next Generation Science Standards
For K-12 schools in the United States, the earlier National Science Education Standards (1996) are being updated in three stages:  developing a Framework (finished in 2011) and using it as the basis for writing new national Standards (now occurring in 2012-2013) that will be strongly recommended for adoption in new state Standards.   This three-stage process is summarized in the homepage for a book – A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas – in its IMPORTANT NOTICE.  Their homepage also links to the website of Next Generation Science Standards (the national Standards now being developed, coordinated by Achieve) and a links-page (for webinars, FAQ, videos,...) and more.  Because the project's goal is to improve education by sharing information about the Framework & Standards, NAP (the publisher) generously lets you read their Framework book (plus an executive summary & report) online for free, or download PDFs, and you can buy a paperback book.  To help you understand the current situation, NSTA has a useful links-page.



The new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), developed in a three-stage process (Framework → National Standards → State Standards), define WHAT we want students to learn.  Then, in a fourth stage, we will design strategies for the WHAT-and-HOW of teaching, for curriculum-and-instruction.  Design Process can be a useful part of the WHAT-and-HOW for some standards, especially Scientific & Engineering Practices, if a combination of Experience (with inquiry activities) plus Principles (of Design Process)` is more effective (compared with just experience) for helping students achieve these standards.



My models of Design Process & Science Process have two main educational goals: to help students improve their UNDERSTANDING of design & science, and their SKILLS in design & science.

In most of this website, and the rest of this page, the emphasis is on skills.

But understanding is also important.  This goal is examined in The Nature of Problem Solving in Design & Science which begins with basic principles, followed by feedback (in June 2012) from NSTA to Achieve, because they disagree about whether the new Science Standards should include standards for Nature of Science.  {update: In the second Public Draft, January 2013, "the nature of science (and engineering)" has been included in the standards.}


• Science and Engineering — Building Bridges

We use design for "almost everything we do", and the most widely recognized type of design is engineering, so I'm excited (along with engineering educators) to see that the new Framework for K-12 Science Education recognizes the importance of Scientific and Engineering Practices by including these as one of its Three Dimensions. (it's also on page 3 of its Executive Summary)

Because science is a special type of design, Scientific Practices and Engineering Practices both use a process of design.  These two process-practices are closely related, and we can use a model of Design Process to show the close relationships, building educational bridges between science-design and engineering-design to help students achieve the standards-goal of learning Scientific and Engineering Practices.  These bridges, between Scientific Design Process and Engineering Design Process, will increase transfers of learning in both directions.


• Design Process is Compatible yet Distinctive

The close relationships between process-practices used in Science and Engineering are clarified & emphasized in Design Process, which therefore should be useful for teaching these process-practices.  But other models of design process are available, so why should you be interested in Design Process?  In why we should teach Design Process the conclusion explains that, compared with other approaches to education for thinking skills, "Design Process is similar in many ways, so it's compatible with other approaches, despite some differences;  but it's distinctive in some ways, so it offers special added value."


Design Process is Compatible:  First we'll look at important similarities between the process of design described in A Framework for K-12 Science Education and [in my bracketed comments] the modes of thinking-and-action used for Design Process:

    Like scientific investigations, engineering design is both iterative and systematic. [this "like" occurs because "scientific investigations" and "engineering design" each use Design Process, which is "iterative and systematic"]   It is iterative in that each new version of the design is tested and then modified [with revision during Design Cycles of Generation-and-Evaluation], based on what has been learned up to that point [in Preparation & previous Design Cycles].  It is systematic [Is there a method for design? - No & Yes] in that a number of characteristic steps must be undertaken.  One step is identifying the problem [Choose an Objective] and defining specifications and constraints [Define your Goals].  Another step is generating ideas for how to solve the problem [Generate Options by Finding Old Options & Inventing New Options];  engineers often use research and group sessions (e.g., “brainstorming”) [for Creative Free Invention] to come up with a range of solutions and design alternatives for further development.  Yet another step is the testing of potential solutions through the building and testing of physical or mathematical models and prototypes [make Observations with Physical Experiments, and make Predictions with Mental Experiments], all of which provide valuable data that cannot be obtained in any other way.  With data in hand, the engineer can analyze how well the various solutions meet the given specifications and constraints [by Comparing Predictions & Observations with Goals using multiple Quality Checks in Argumentation based on evidence-and-logic] and then [with Guided Invention in which creative Generation is guided by critical Evaluation by “mentally testing” many different Options using Mental Quality Checks] evaluate what is needed to improve the leading design or devise a better one.
Due to these similarities and others,* Design Process is compatible with WHAT the Framework defines as educational goals.    {* Additional similarities – between Design Process and the Framework's eight practices in three spheres of activity – are described in Design Process and the 8 Practices which also explains the differences.  Also, there are Comparisons of Design Process with Other Models of Problem Solving. }

Design Process is Different in some ways.  But these minor differences are mainly in differing elaborations of the similar basic frameworks, in the emphasis given to various aspects of thinking skills and thinking process, as explained in Design Process and the 8 Practices.


Design Process is Distinctive:  In the third phase of design-action for improving education, when we "design curriculum & instruction for the WHAT-and-HOW of teaching," using Design Process can offer special added value by clearly showing:

• the interactive relationships between modes of thinking-and-action within Design Process, in a logically organized framework

    using creatively designed verbal and verbal/visual representations of Design Process, and of Science Process,

    to show how thinking skills are effectively combined into a productive thinking process;

• the close relationships between two types of design, General Design & Science — and between Design Process (used for General Design & Science) and Science Process (used for Science) — when they are compared (to look for similarities & differences in Objectives and Process) by using the same framework to describe both types of design, and both types of process;

• how a process of design can be used to develop-and-apply metacognitive Strategies for Learning.



Education for Ideas-and-Skills

A Framework for K-12 Science Education has Three Dimensions.  When the Framework is converted into Standards these Dimensions (Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, Core Ideas) "will be combined to form each Standard," says Next Generation Science Standards, who visually symbolize this interactive combining in a colorful mobius strip that is their logo.  They explain that the Framework "describes a vision of what it means to be proficient in science;  it rests on a view of science as both a body of knowledge and an evidence-based, model and theory building enterprise that continually extends, refines, and revises knowledge," so...

Learning about science and engineering involves integration of the knowledge of scientific explanations (i.e., content knowledge) and the practices needed to engage in scientific inquiry and engineering design.  Thus the framework seeks to illustrate how knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences in K-12 science education.   Framework, page 11 )

I agree with this general vision of education and view of science.  Strategies for designing curriculum-and-instruction that intertwines knowledge (ideas) and practice (skills) are examined in these two pages:

Design of Curriculum & Instruction describes:  goals for ideas (conceptual knowledge) and skills (procedural knowledge, in thinking skills & process-coordinating skills) that are combined into ideas-with-skills;  potential tensions "if we are not able to maximize a mastery of both ideas and skills";  educators who support Ideas-and-Skills Education,  Five Valid Concerns of Teachers (that are Rational Reasons to Avoid Adoption) "for any method of instruction that increases the emphasis on thinking skills," and ways to reduce these concerns.

Education for Ideas-and-Skills explains — in terms of Motivation, Metacognition, Conceptual Knowledge, Procedural Knowledge (domain-specific skills & general skills), Collaboration and Communication — how Design Process can promote ideas-and-skills interactions that are mutually supportive.


Basically, mutual support between ideas and skills can occur in two ways:  improved skills (procedural knowledge) can support improved learning of ideas (conceptual knowledge) as in learning concepts during science-inquiry by guided discovery;  and vice versa, which occurs when conceptual knowledge supports a learning of procedural knowledge.  In addition, we use a combination of ideas-with-skills, not either by itself, to solve problems.

Students can learn all of these more effectively when Design Process is used for two types of design-based Inquiry Activities (to answer questions in science-inquiry, and solve problems in design-inquiry, or do both) and in cognitive-and-metacognitive Strategies for Learning that students develop-and-apply (by using a process of design) to improve the quality of their learning, thinking, and performing.


Grade-Level Standards for Science & Engineering Practices

NGSS has 4 levels, for Grades K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12.  But I think students of all ages – from K through 12 and beyond – should do, and learn about, everything in Design Process and Science Process (which is very similar to everything in the Scientific & Engineering Practices of NGSS) from the beginning of their classroom experiences with Science-Inquiry and Design-Inquiry.  In a well-designed spiral curriculum for ideas-and-skills education students will continually increase their mastery-level (for thinking skills & thinking process) but at each age-level they will be using, and learning about, the same basic set of skills.

Ideas-Learning ≠ Skills-Learning:  When we are designing an effective spiral curriculum (and I think NGSS will be a solid foundation for doing this), we should make clear distinctions between grade levels when we are planning a coordinated teaching of IDEAS, because we want to build a coherently organized framework of conceptual knowledge, by using earlier learning as a solid foundation for later learning.  But a different teaching strategy is needed for SKILLS, at least for the basic thinking skills & thinking process in Design Process, which includes only a few Skills.  By contrast, the number of teachable Ideas is huge - almost limitless?   /   Here is another major difference:  Because we use design-thinking for almost everything we do the skills in Design Process are familiar in the non-school experiences of students.  This makes it easier for students to "discover" principles of Design Process

Therefore, we should use a different strategy for teaching Skills, such as those in Design Process, or in the Scientific & Engineering Practices of NGSS.  One strategy-option uses whole-part-whole instruction in which a carefully designed sequence of activities lets students (at different times in the sequence) do one part of a problem-solving process, several parts of it, and all of it together, moving back & forth between the whole and parts and whole.  Teachers can adjust the level of difficulty before an activity ("by defining what students will do, or by helping them prepare") and during it (with the types & amounts & timings of coaching and scaffolding).

Of course, students will develop increasingly sophisticated (i.e., accurate and complete) understandings about different modes of thinking-and-action in Design Process, and improved skills with these modes and combining them into an effective overall process, as they mature developmentally and gain experience with Design Activities and improve their knowledge of principles for effective design-thinking.


Eclectic Instruction for Ideas-and-Skills

Although "I agree with this general vision [for ideas-and-skills education]" in the new standards, I'm wondering about some details. 

My main concerns are about the types of instruction that seem to be recommended (and un-recommended), both explicitly and implicitly.  How should we teach?  My Views about Eclectic Instruction are summarized in the conclusion of a page about "Optimizing the Benefits of Eclectic Instruction," which looks at strategies for "designing eclectic instruction by combining the best features of each approach [e.g. learning from explanations, by discovery, and during activities] in a blend that produces an optimal overall result — a greatest good for the greatest number — in helping students achieve worthy educational goals."


Here are my two concerns:

1. We Should Explain Ideas:  When the Framework/Standards declare that "knowledge and practice must be intertwined in designing learning experiences," are they recommending that intertwining must occur sometimes (I agree) or always (this would be a cause for concern).  Probably this concern is unfounded, but I would prefer that they more clearly describe the role of explanation-based instruction in an eclectic mix (along with learning by discovery and during activities)* designed to help students learn conceptual knowledge.    {* My Views about Optimal Eclectic Mixing are based on a principle that Constructivist Learning can include Learning from Explanations. }

2. Skills are Important:  The Framework/Standards emphasize the value of skills that help students learn ideas (in science-inquiry) and use ideas (in design-inquiry), but we also should emphasize the learning of science skills (with science-inquiry) and learning of design skills (with design-inquiry) simply to improve these skills, independent from their role in learning ideas.   But improved design skills — by coordinating creative-and-critical thinking skills into a productive thinking process are useful for their own sake.  One kind of utility is for motivation in Education for Ideas-and-Skills when we "show students how the design-thinking skills they are learning in school will be useful in life, because they use design-thinking for almost everything in life."


Both concerns are probably not warranted by the Framework/Standards, because:

for #1, probably their emphasis on "intertwining" is intended only to promote the inclusion of science-inquiry in an eclectic mix, not to implicitly exclude any type of instruction.

for #2, the Standards do emphasize the importance of "Practices" that are thinking skills for Science-Design and/or Engineering-Design;  I just wish there was more clarity in emphasizing that all thinking skills (not just those that help students learn ideas) are intrinsically valuable.


Unfortunately, Concern #2 probably is warranted if the quality of teachers & schools continues to be judged mainly by the results of high-stakes exams that emphasize ideas instead of ideas-and-skills.  These exams will make it more difficult to improve our teaching of skills.


The Effects of Exams

Along with many other educators, I think high-stakes exams that over-emphasize IDEAS (relative to THINKING SKILLS) influence curriculum-and-instruction in ways that are not beneficial for students, in the long run.  The influence of exams is one of the 5 rational reasons for teachers to avoid a teaching of thinking skills/process;  and it contributes to some of the other 4 reasons.

I.O.U. — Soon, maybe in late June, this section will be developed more fully.  Eventually it will be extended further by looking at educational policies in other countries, and doing more research about the views of other educators in the US (from both critics & supporters of high-stakes exams) about what they think about the possible effects of the new K-12 Standards and exam policies.