A national initiative to make science learning more coherent and equitable that is being supported by learning scientists from the University of Washington College of Education has received a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to push its work forward.

The grant supports the second phase of the Advancing Coherent and Equitable Systems of Science Education (ACESSE) project, a partnership involving the UW Institute for Science + Math Education, Council of State Science Supervisors (CSSS) and University of Colorado, Boulder.

Philip Bell, the principal investigator of the project and Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences at the UW College of Education, said the ACESSE project — launched three years ago — has made significant strides supporting state-level leaders in their work with districts, schools, communities, informal education institutions and students to provide more equitable learning opportunities.

“We are excited to work for the next four years to further promote critical consciousness around issues of inequity and to promote culture-based pedagogies that focus on the interests, experiences, knowledge, and goals of youth and their communities,” said Bell, noting the network is perhaps the largest science education improvement effort in the nation. “The impact of this initiative is rippling across districts and educator networks throughout the country. We look forward to continuing to deepen, spread and study this effort.”

Bell and his research team at the UW Institute for Science + Math Education will lead work co-designing and studying professional learning resources for teachers and educational leaders implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and other standards built on the underlying Framework for K-12 Science Education. Building on their prior successful approach, the resources will be co-designed with state science education leaders, science educators and other researchers. These resources are shared through the popular STEM Teaching Tools platform created by the Institute five years ago as well as through the CSSS website.

“NGSS has been out for six years so a lot of new instructional materials are out there for educators,” Bell said. “This moment is a key opportunity for us to take those off-the-shelf curriculum materials and support educators in adapting them to local settings, communities and needs related to promoting equity through their teaching.”

The effort, Bell said, is leveraging a growing focus on culture-based pedagogies and the braiding of multiple forms of knowledge and ways of knowing into science instruction.

Also in this phase of the work, CU Boulder researchers will be developing and refining research tools that can be used to evaluate and promote coherence in equitable science instruction across networks of science educators.

“Through our research, we will be documenting how state leaders and their teams use ACESSE resources to support local goals for learning,” said Bill Penuel, co-principal investigator on the grant and professor of learning sciences and human development in the School of Education at UC Boulder. “We will also be working with state leaders to develop a set of practical survey measures that they can use to monitor their own progress in integrating culture-based pedagogies into instruction.”

Through CSSS, state-level science leaders across the country will be able to participate in a networked improvement community model organized to develop, test and refine state-wide implementation strategies. Specifically, the project will focus on building knowledge about how states can synthesize and share more coherent guidance for culturally-based instruction in local districts, schools and informal education institutions.

CSSS Board Member Tiffany Neill, executive director of curriculum and instruction at the Oklahoma State Department of Education and project co-principal investigator, said “The Council of State Science Supervisors is eager to build upon this powerful research and practice partnerships as it affords states science leaders opportunities to shape measurement tools and resources that are meaningful to the needs and goals of their individual states, and it provides them opportunities to target specific initiatives that improve science learning experiences for students with diverse interests and backgrounds.”

This is a time for innovation, networking and transformation in support of more just futures in PreK-12 science education for youth and communities who have been historically underserved and marginalized said CSSS Board Member Maya M. Garcia, science content specialist at Colorado Department of Education and a project co-principal investigator, building on and extending the progress of the past decade (see table below for details on specific equity dimensions of the work).

“This work helps accomplish the equity goals of CSSS,” Garcia said. “That science education should embrace and leverage students’ cultures and identities as primary drivers in their science education and — that as leaders of this work — we ensure that all students in the K-12 educational systems have access and supports to participate in the opportunities that a high-quality science education provides.”

Resources and knowledge related to supporting the equity projects across national networks of science educators will be co-designed and shared over time and the team will study how that process unfolds. Follow developments around the ACESSE project and STEM Teaching Tools on Twitter.

Table: Proposed equity and justice projects for PreK-12 science education

From Bell, Journal of Science Teacher Education, 2019.
Engage in Culture-based Pedagogies: support expansive learning pathways for learners through culturally responsive, sustaining, and resurgent pedagogies
Support Diverse Sense-Making: build educator capacity and educational resources to leverage the diverse intellectual resources learners bring to educational environments (Rosebery, Warren, & Tucker-Raymond, 2015)
Disrupt Ableism: promote a cultural model of ability by leveraging and extending beyond universal design
Promote Place-based Learning & Ecological Caring: support science learning in outdoor settings and help people learn to engage in ecological caring practices in support of socio-ecological thriving and multi-species justice
Center Racial Justice: build capacity for counter-racist pedagogies; promote critical consciousness and responses around systemic racism (Mensah & Jackson, 2018)
Arrange for Cross-age, Family & Community Science Learning: dismantle the age segregation associated with settler-colonial schooling and normalize a focus on cross-age and cross-generational learning communities, leverage families as co-designers of education, make science education accountable to community goals
Design Course Sequences Using a Range of Meaningful Phenomena: design instruction where learners routinely investigate and act upon natural phenomena that have social gravity for them, their community, and society — including justice-centered phenomena (Morales-Doyle, 2017)



Philip Bell, Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences
206-221-6373, pbell@uw.edu

Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications
206-543-1035, dwunder@uw.edu