The Importance of 3-D Science Standards

The Importance of 3-D Science Standards

Why is a good STEM education important?

In today’s rapidly changing society, STEM careers are in increasingly high demand. These jobs are crucial to continued development and innovation—whether it’s developing new medicines or finding solutions to tackling climate change. As a result, if we are to prepare today’s students to lead the global economy and pursue the diverse employment opportunities out there, we must equip them with a good K–12 science education.

How has science education in the US changed?

Over the last decade, science education in the US has undergone a transformation. Until the introduction of 3-D science standards in the 2010s, American schools followed the National Science Education Standards from the National Research Council (NRC) and Benchmarks for Science Literacy from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to teach science in the classroom. 

Both of these frameworks were formulated in the early 1990s and quickly became outdated. Students were learning theory without understanding the underlying principles that make that theory work. But to succeed in both STEM fields and other modern careers, the next generation needs to learn important 21st-century skills such as research, communication, and evidence-based critical thinking.  

How were 3-D science standards developed? How are they different from older standards?

To reflect the new demands of a rapidly changing world, the National Research Council released the report “A Framework for K–12 Science Education” in 2011. This framework details what K–12 students should learn throughout their science education, with a focus on scientific skills and methods and the understanding of processes.

The framework then formed the basis of the development of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)—other versions of 3-D standards are either inspired by or adapted from the NGSS. A consortium of 26 states as well as the NRC, the AAAS, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and the nonprofit organization Achieve worked together to develop the standards. Teachers, science and policy staff, higher education faculty, business leaders, and expert STEM professionals were also involved in the development of the standards. 

In 2013, the final draft of the standards was published. The standards highlight the importance of students thinking and acting like scientists and engineers—instead of just learning content, students are expected to understand and apply methods that scientists and engineers use in their daily work.

How many states have adopted 3-D science standards?

Today, 44 states have adopted some version of 3-D science standards—either the NGSS or their own version. As a result, 71% of students in the US receive a science education that follows the NRC Framework. (1)

What are the three dimensions of 3-D science standards?

3-D science standards fill in a demand in education that had previously been left unaddressed, prioritizing methodology and blending content with practice. The standards are based on three overlapping dimensions of science learning, all of which weld practice to theory: Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs), Crosscutting Concepts (CCCs), and Disciplinary Core Ideas (DCIs).

In short, 3-D science standards focus on developing the habits and skills that scientists and engineers use in day-to-day life. The standards are formulated to help students learn how to think rather than telling them what to think. Teachers are there to guide students to draw their own conclusions based on evidence and reasoning. The standards provide students with the space and encouragement to question, investigate, and draw their own inferences based on evidence. Through 3-D science standards, we are preparing future generations to be independent, responsible, and proactive before they go out into the world. 

Learn more in our Ultimate Guide to 3-D Learning.