If you are like I was before I read this book, you probably do not know what Project 2061 is. Briefly, "Project 2061 of the American Association for the Advancement of Science is a long-term initiative to reform K-12 science education nationwide. The project is creating a coordinated set of reform tools and services--books, CD-ROMS, on-line resources, and workshops--to help educators work toward science literacy for all students." This description is taken directly from their web page.
The goal of Project 2061's Blueprints book is to give its readers a solid understanding of the entire system of education in the United States, so that readers may then go on to promote lasting reform in science education. The intended audience includes teachers, school administrators, parents and business leaders. There are few specific recommendations for curricular reform, those are left to the book Benchmarks for Science Literacy, which was put out by Project 2061 in 1993. Blueprints is broken down into twelve chapters that examine various aspects of education: equity, policy, finance, research, school organization, curriculum connections, materials and technology, assessment, teacher education, higher education, family and community, and business and industry. At the beginning of each section, there are open ended questions that may or may not be addressed by each chapter. A list of resources for would-be reformers is included at the end of the book.
A main goal of Project 2061 is to raise the scientific level of all students, not to improve science education for the only brightest students. The very first chapter, on equity, recommends that teachers be rewarded for achieving equity goals, as opposed to serving the academically talented. There is an urgency in the authors' call: our democracy, as it enters the 21st century, depends on a scientifically, technologically, and mathematically literate populace. Those of us who teach post-secondary mathematics should pay heed to this call. With the current glut of Ph.D.'s, it seems that we should be trying harder to close the gap in mathematical achievement that currently exists, instead of concentrating our teaching energies only on highly and conspicuously talented students. Such a shift in attitude, I am sure, would not stop the production of people with advanced math degrees, and it just might increase public support for mathematics in general.
Many of the proposals offered in the Blueprints book will sound familiar to those who have thought about debate on reforming collegiate teaching. The book strongly recommends making the science and mathematics curriculum more hands-on and relevant to the students' daily lives. Other tips for improving education include avoiding tracking students, integrating the curriculum, and using multi-age classrooms. Teachers are encouraged to employ a wider array of assessments that allow for reflection, rather than more "reflexive" tests. The authors recommend that school systems provide teachers with professional development opportunities that would allow them to learn content in their subject, while at the same time learning how to teach this content in their own classroom. Since most teachers learn their craft by emulating their teachers, Blueprints advocates that college professors reform their own teaching.
This is a good opportunity for me to put in my two cents' worth on reform. I do believe that making connections across different subjects is beneficial for students. I also believe, however, that balance between disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches has be achieved carefully. My own department teaches calculus through a very traditional, discipline-specific curriculum, and the department has had a history of attracting large numbers of mathematics majors. I am led to conclude that an integrated curriculum does appeal to some students, but that the way we teach and treat our students is more important than course content.
There are many, many more recommendations given in the book. I found most to be reasonable, and I appreciated the open tone of the book (readers are invited to visit the Project 2061 web page and to discuss issues raised in the book.) The recommendations made extend into almost every conceivable area related to K-12 school education. There is one noteworthy exception that is left out, and that is pre-K education. The earliest years in a child's life are the most important developmentally. If equity in K-12, or even K-16, education is to be achieved, I believe it would be cost effective to have programs reaching out to the 0 to 4 year old group. For example, musical training at a young age is supposed to help children improve their understanding of spatial relations. Pre-school music classes for disadvantaged children should be supported.
Blueprints should prove interesting and informative to those mathematicians who are interested in learning about educational reform in a broader context. It would serve as a good starting point for conversation with teachers, school administrators, and those who serve in education departments. Students in mathematics (or science) education programs would also benefit from reading this book.
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Joel S. Foisy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an assistant professor of mathematics at SUNY Potsdam.