New Approaches for New Times
Today, NSF is once again an influential player in the search for better instructional materials and methods, largely through the efforts of its Directorate for Education and Human Resources. The current programs embody what was learned from the successes and disappointments of earlier years, and also reflect the importance of science and technology to the U.S. economyand hence, to the country's workforce and citizenry.
A defining feature of today's curriculum reform movement is the emphasis on all students. Regardless of whether they intend to pursue science-related careers or even to go to college, all students should receive quality mathematics and science instruction before they leave high school. And at NSF, "all students" means everyone, including girls and women, persons with disabilities, and ethnic minoritiesgroups that remain underrepresented in the nation's science and engineering communities.
Of course, what constitutes a good way to learn and teach science and mathematics remains a matter of some debate, as evidenced by the current effort to develop and implement standards. State and local districts now have two sets of national standards to guide them: the 1989 standards put forth by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the 1996 National Science Education Standards established by the National Research Council. Both sets of standards grew out of long processes including in-depth consultations with the science and mathematics communities, with teachers and educational researchers, and with others concerned about the issue.
NSF-funded curriculum development teams are also drawn from a broad spectrum of the science, mathematics, and educational communities. In their standards-based approaches, these teams are moving beyond the kind of learning-by-doing that asks students to conduct experiments or manipulate mathematical equations with the simple goal of getting an already-determined resultdoing things the "right" way to get the "right" answer. In the new "inquiry-based, problem-oriented" curricula, students become participants in discovery by using fact-based knowledge to think through open-ended problems in a variety of ways.