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The Work of Normative Case Studies in the Next Generation Science Standards (Fundamental)

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2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


New Orleans, Louisiana

Publication Date

June 26, 2016

Start Date

June 26, 2016

End Date

August 28, 2016





Conference Session

K-12 & Pre-College Engineering Division: Addressing the NGSS: Supporting K12 Teachers in Engineering Pedagogy, Engineering Science, Careers, and Technical Pathways

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Pre-College Engineering Education Division

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Paper Authors


Julie Cafarella University of Colorado - Boulder

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Julie Cafarella is a PhD student in Educational Psychology & Learning Sciences at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Before moving to Colorado, she worked as a public school teacher in New England. Her current research focuses on issues of access and equity in STEM education.

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Kevin O'Connor University of Colorado - Boulder Orcid 16x16

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Kevin O’Connor is assistant professor of Educational Psychology and Learning Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. His scholarship focuses on human action, communication, and learning as socioculturally organized phenomena. A major strand of his research explores the varied trajectories taken by students as they attempt to enter professional disciplines such as engineering, and focuses on the dilemmas encountered by students as they move through these institutionalized trajectories. He is co-editor of a 2010 National Society for the Study of Education Yearbook, Learning Research as a Human Science. Other work has appeared in Linguistics and Education; Mind, Culture, and Activity; Anthropology & Education Quarterly, the Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science; the Journal of Engineering Education; and the Cambridge Handbook of Engineering Education Research. His teaching interests include developmental psychology; sociocultural theories of communication, learning, and identity; qualitative methods; and discourse analysis.

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Jacob (Jenna) McWilliams University of Colorado - Boulder

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Jacob (Jenna) McWilliams is a postdoctoral researcher in the Learning Sciences program at the University of Colorado Boulder. Jacob’s research focuses on issues of gender and sexual diversity in education, and recent work involves developing queer pedagogies for supporting new media literacies practices in the elementary classroom and, most recently, drawing on queer and transgender theory for understanding the dominant discourses of engineering education and how those discourses marginalize and exclude people from traditionally vulnerable gender, sexual, and ethnic groups.

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Objectives The development and adoption of educational policy is a normative practice, one that reflects dominant assumptions about what counts as good learning and effective teaching, and about what kinds of people schools should produce (Beyer, 2002; Gaudelli, 2013; Luke, 2011; Zeidler & Sadler, 2009). The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), released in 2013, adopted by 15 states and the District of Columbia, with more states considering adoption (Heitin, 2015), offer important insights into culturally shared beliefs that connect both science and engineering education to workplace success. NGSS, in fact, names eight "science and engineering practices" it considers essential elements K-12 education "based on an analysis of what professional scientists and engineers do" (NGSS, Appendix F). This research paper (work in progress) grapples with these necessary questions about culturally shared beliefs regarding the role of both science and engineering in our society.

Theoretical Perspectives In this paper, we interrogate those questions through frameworks of policy design theory (Schneider & Ingram, 1997; Schneider & Sidney, 2009) and critical discourse analysis (Baxter, 2003; Lazar, 2005; Van Dijk, 1993). With these lenses, we critically examine Appendix D of NGSS: "All Standards, All Students."

Appendix D is devoted to providing guidance on equity issues in science education, presenting principles for working with diverse learners. According to NGSS, “diverse learners” includes the four accountability groups defined in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 and the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act [ESEA], Section 1111(b)(2)(C)(v): • economically disadvantaged students, • students from major racial and ethnic groups, • students with disabilities, and • students with limited English proficiency. (p. 2).

Appendix D focuses on three additional groups: Girls, students in alternative education programs, and gifted and talented students. Appendix D devotes a chapter to each these seven groups, interweaving a case study that draws from research conducted in formal classrooms with instructional principles for working with students from each group. In these case studies, NGSS communicates messages about each population it chose to identify. Our analysis focuses primarily on one case study, “Economically disadvantaged students.”

Methods We investigate how "economically disadvantaged" youth are positioned, in order to better understand how NGSS frames equity issues in STEM education. To do this, we examine the text, images, and video data NGSS used in this case study, alongside the NGSS document itself. In crafting this case study, we find that NGSS plays into and invokes images prevalent in our culture and in schooling about low-income youth. These include images that low-income youth live in dirty neighborhoods (surrounded by "smashed cans"), that their science-related concerns should are connected to pollution and transforming their neighborhoods from "dirty" to "clean." These images and discourses have implications for both social construction and identity, particularly if there is a mismatch between the case studies NGSS publishes and its intended audiences.

Implications Appendix D has further implications for students, teachers, and schools. Identifying and defining populations of students informs the types of discourses that exist within the seven case studies of Appendix D. One explanation for targeting "economically disadvantaged" students is that their performance on standardized tests (often described as "low" or "underperforming") has consequences for students, teachers, schools, school districts, and states. This paper ultimately considers how a critical discourse framework can help us make sense of the policy designs that led to the identification of these target populations and highlights the implications of such policy designs and decisions.

References Baxter, J. (2003). Positioning gender in discourse: a feminist research methodology. Beyer, L. E. (2002). The politics of standardization: Teacher education in the USA. Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy, 28(3), 239-245. Blommaert, J., & Bulcaen, C. (2000). Critical discourse analysis. Annual review of Anthropology, 447-466. Fairclough, N., Mulderrig, J., & Wodak, R. (2011). Critical discourse analysis. Discourse studies: A multidisciplinary introduction, 357-378. Gaudelli, W. (2013). Critically theorizing the global. Theory & Research in Social Education, 41(4), 552-565. Heitin, L. (2015). Updated map: Which states have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards? Education Week: Curriculum Matters. Retrieved from: Lazar, M. M. (2005). Feminist critical discourse analysis: gender, power, and ideology in discourse. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Luke, A. (2011). Generalizing across borders policy and the limits of educational science. Educational researcher, 40(8), 367-377. Schneider, A., & Ingram, H. (1993). Social construction of target populations: Implications for politics and policy. American Political Science Review, 87(02), 334-347. Schneider, A. L., & Ingram, H. M. (1997). Policy design for democracy. Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press. Schneider, A., & Sidney, M. (2009). What is next for policy design and social construction theory? Policy Studies Journal, 37(1), 103-119. Zeidler, D., & Sadler, T. (2009). Scientific literacy, PISA, and socioscientific discourse: Assessment for progressive aims of science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 46(8), 909-921.

Cafarella, J., & O'Connor, K., & McWilliams, J. J. (2016, June), The Work of Normative Case Studies in the Next Generation Science Standards (Fundamental) Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.27034

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