ONLINE EXTRA: Project 2061 Promotes Science Literacy for All

MARY KOPPAL ( is the communications director and JO ELLEN ROSEMAN ( is the director of AAAS Project 2061, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Washington, DC.

Project 2061 is a long-term initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to help all Americans become literate in science, mathematics, and technology. AAAS launched Project 2061 in 1985, the same year that Halley's Comet was last visible from Earth. Since then the world has seen incredible advances in science and technology that have transformed the way we work and live. Children starting school now will see the return of the comet in 2061. What kind of education will they need to prepare them for a future in which science and technology continue to shape the world in ways that we cannot predict?

Helping the nation answer this question has been the focus of Project 2061's work over the past three decades. Its research and development efforts have provided educators, researchers, and policymakers with tools, resources, and services they can use to make critical and lasting improvements in science education. According to Project 2061's director, Jo Ellen Roseman, the need for such change is urgent. "There is considerable evidence to show that most Americans have not been adequately prepared in science," she said. What is needed is "for more people to understand not just key science concepts such as natural selection or the conservation and transformation of energy, for example, but also to understand the nature of science, the importance of evidence in scientific argument, and the kinds of questions science can and cannot address. All of these ideas are at the core of what it means to be science literate."

Weather and Climate
With its landmark 1989 publication Science for All Americans, Project 2061 helped to define the knowledge and skills of a science literate adult. Laying the groundwork for subsequent national and state standards for science education, including Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Science for All Americans emphasized the interdependence of science, technology, and mathematics; identified a set of key concepts, principles, and skills in each domain; and highlighted the need to use scientific knowledge and ways of thinking to benefit the individual and society. Benchmarks for Science Literacy followed four years later and recommended what K-12 students should know and be able to do at each grade level in science, mathematics, and technology as they made progress toward science literacy goals. To illustrate the interconnectedness of knowledge in science, mathematics, and technology and how this knowledge develops over time, Project 2061 published the two-volume Atlas of Science Literacy, a collection of conceptual strand maps for nearly 100 of the "big ideas" in these domains.

Used together, these Project 2061 resources can help educators consider how to convey core science concepts and practices to students while also building their own knowledge of science and of how students learn. For example, Project 2061 has assembled guides for teaching important topics—evolution, global climate change, and the nature of science—that provide relevant excerpts and information from across its set of resources and elsewhere. The guides describe what science literate adults should know and what should be taught at each grade level for each of these topics, display strand maps to illustrate connections among the ideas and how that knowledge might develop as students move from kindergarten through high school, and, in some cases, provide sample test questions for assessing students' knowledge. And for those who are interested in further exploration of these topics, the guides also suggest highly recommended trade books and websites. The guides are available for downloading at

Project 2061 Teaching Guides

Project 2061 continues to explore how best to promote science literacy for all through its program of research and development. With a focus on the curriculum and assessment materials that are used in the classroom, Project 2061 researchers are active in the following areas.


Project 2061 develops innovative and engaging curriculum materials that align with NGSS by integrating core science ideas, crosscutting concepts and practices to help students make sense of phenomena. These materials are intended to serve as examples or models for the field (particularly for others who are developing materials). Project 2061 also produces tools and strategies for evaluating the alignment of curriculum and instruction to standards and the quality of support provided for teachers and students. Project staff members consult widely with curriculum researchers and developers and state and district science education administrators. Current activities include:

  • Toward High School Biology. With support from the U.S. Department of Education, Project 2061 has developed and tested an innovative eight-week curriculum unit that integrates physical and life science concepts to help middle school students understand chemical reactions and their role in the growth and repair of living organisms. Field test results have shown significant learning gains for students using the new unit, which is designed to align with the three dimensions of science learning called for in NGSS.
  • Matter and Energy in High School Biology. For this sequel to the Toward High School Biology unit, the Project 2061 team has been funded by the U.S. Department of Education to develop and test a new unit that supports NGSS goals by (a) focusing on a coherent set of ideas about matter and about energy transfer, conservation, and dissipation in chemical reactions that are central to physical and life science; (b) engaging students in interesting and appropriate phenomena that illustrate the ideas and their explanatory power; and (c) helping students use data analysis, modeling, and explanation practices to make sense of familiar and novel phenomena.
  • WeatherSchool
    WeatherSchool@AAAS. This online tool ( lets students analyze patterns in real-world data collected by weather stations, satellites, and other observation sites on land and sea. Funded by NASA and NOAA, this effort has also produced a set of assessment items that educators can use to get a better picture of what students know and don't know about weather and climate concepts.
  • New Tools for Teaching Evolution. Supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation, Project 2061 is working with the Genetic Sciences Learning Center at the University of Utah to develop an innovative multimedia curriculum unit and assessments to help high schoolers understand and apply NGSS core ideas about evolution through mathematical reasoning, data analysis, and argumentation based on evidence.
  • Green Schools as a Context for Science Learning. What opportunities do school buildings themselves provide for helping students develop a scientific foundation for making choices about energy resources and their use? In this exploratory study funded by the National Science Foundation, Project 2061 gathered data from the field on the feasibility of such an approach and what it might look like.


Responding to the need for effective and accurate information on what students are learning, Project 2061 produces assessment items and instruments that can be used to measure students' knowledge and to diagnose their conceptual difficulties. Assessment resources developed by Project 2061 are rigorously screened for alignment to national standards and are suitable for use with a diverse range of students, including English language learners. Project 2061 participates in a number of national assessment efforts and consults on a wide range of assessment research and development initiatives. Current activities include:

  • AAAS Science Assessment Website. This online database ( gives science educators easy access to more than 700 high-quality multiple choice items for testing middle and high school students' understanding of 16 important topics in earth, life, and physical science and the nature of science. The site also presents data on the state of science learning by gender and grade level and whether or not English is the student's primary language. An online testing feature lets users select items, assemble them into tests, and administer and score the tests online. Development of the items and the website was made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
  • Improving Science Assessment for English Learners (ELs). Funded by the National Science Foundation and in partnership with WestEd, Project 2061 is examining a large set of science assessment items to identify linguistic factors that may account for EL students' underperformance on tests when compared to non-EL students and propose strategies for improving the items. Findings from the study will be particularly timely, given the need for new assessments that are aligned to NGSS and for more effective measures of what students know regardless of their English language status.
  • Measuring Students' Understanding of Energy. A first step to helping students develop a strong understanding of basic energy concepts is finding out what they already know, how their understanding builds over time, and what conceptual difficulties they are having and why. With a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Project 2061 is designing assessment instruments to evaluate students' energy knowledge across a range of NGSS topics at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

Teacher Development and Outreach

Project 2061
Improving students' literacy in science, mathematics, and technology requires well-prepared teachers who have a solid grounding in the content they teach and an understanding of how diverse students can be helped to learn. Project 2061's publications are widely used in teacher education courses, and its research studies continue to shed light on how textbooks, teaching practices, and professional development can best be coordinated to improve student learning. Whenever possible, Project 2061 also offers professional development workshops to introduce educators to important areas of its work.

Findings from Project 2061's research and development efforts are frequently published in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, Cell Biology Education-Life Sciences, the Journal of Science Teacher Education, and more. Links to articles, book chapters, presentations, and other publications are provided on the Project 2061 website at Additional information is available in Project 2061 Connections, a free online newsletter. Subscribe at

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