Leading Instructional Improvement in Elementary Science: State Science Coordinators’ Sense-Making About the Next Generation Science Standards

Christa Haverly, Angela Lyle, James P. Spillane, Elizabeth A. Davis, Donald J. Peurach

More Research Briefs

JRST VOL. 59, NO. 9, PP. 1575-1606 (2022)


Overview: This paper analyzes how short interactive edgy science-and-art activities can engage members of the public without a strong connection to science with science concepts and practices.

Audience: Science communication practitioners; Informal learning educators; Researchers; Evaluators

Key Points

  • Short-term science engagement opportunities can contribute to the development of science interest and identity.

  • Edgy, theatrical “immersive storyworlds” can break down barriers to participation in science communication and foster a sense of belonging in science.

  • Participants’ prior lives and interests serve as the means for participation thus advancing inclusive science engagement strategies.


The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a reform effort in the US ‘for states, by states’, alongside the Framework for K-12 Science Education, advances ambitious ideals for elementary science teaching, but the fate of these ideals will depend in part on the engagement of state science coordinators (SSCs). Challenges related to elementary science education reform are exacerbated by a legacy of deprioritizing elementary science relative to English language arts and mathematics in the US. This paper explores the responses of SSCs to the NGSS and the Framework in a purposeful sample of eighteen US states.


Based on our analysis, we develop and support two central claims. First, despite limited mandates and incentives for states to adopt recent reforms set forth by the NGSS and the Framework, SSCs’ ideas about elementary science aligned reasonably well with reformers’ proposals and converged around three central themes: all but one SSC stressed the importance of three-dimensional learning (or rather, integrating disciplinary core ideas with crosscutting concepts and science and engineering practices), many indicated that integrating science instruction with engineering was an important new development, and a majority also emphasized the importance of integrating literacy instruction with science. Most attended to more than one of these themes. Second, SSCs’ sense-making was situated in and shaped by (1) conflicting goals around the relative importance of science in the elementary curriculum, (2) working with colleagues to develop and/or adopt science standards and the role of the Framework therein, and (3) participation in professional networks that afforded SSCs discourse-rich environments for collective sense-making with colleagues and researchers nationwide.


Though we highlight key points of convergence in SSCs’ ideas about elementary science, there are also ideas from the NGSS and Framework that did not figure as prominently in SSCs’ accounts and could be valuable entry points in ongoing work with state leaders. These ideas include better conceptualizing the role of crosscutting concepts in 3D science learning and promoting equity in elementary science classrooms. Furthermore, the “for states, by states” approach that was cultivated through the Framework and NGSS seemed critical to state leaders’ ability to make adaptations to the state standards and engage in robust sense-making and may be a model worth replicating in future educational reform efforts.